Open Letter to the President: When In China, Seek Opportunities for Farmers

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H.E. George Manneh Weah
PRESIDENT
Republic of Liberia
Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Monrovia, Liberia

Dear Mr. President:

I thought to write you this letter as a way to suggest to your office a few thoughts that have crossed my mind about your upcoming trip to the People’s Republic of China on September 1, 2018. Already, the Minister of Information, Hon. Lenn Eugene Nagbe, has hinted that you will request grant or loan to further your national road network project. I am not sure what else will be on the Beijing Agenda, but there is one thing I would like you to include, loan/grant to produce growers (farmers).

Mr. President, since the William Richard Tolbert, Jr. administration, 39 years ago, when produce like cocoa, coffee, rice, oil palm and sugar cane were grown on large, commercial scales, we’ve not seen that level of farming ever. Not only have those who manned or owned the farms aged, the land areas that were farmed have all now grown into forests. We’ve lost the old, good farmers and their farms but there are potential farmers, Sir, and available arable land for farming, too.

We need to target growing the nation’s staple, rice, and other food crops like cassava, plantains, potatoes, bananas and vegetables on large scales. It is a shame to have our market women import pepper from Guinea and rice dealers import rice from southeast Asia. Why should Guineans sell us pepper? Were we not the pepper coast discovered by the Portuguese in the 15th Century? Are we unable to do what our ancestors did 600 years ago? And rice could be globally expensive, but transporting the commodity from way across the other end of the world to Liberia makes it far too expensive. Don’t you think so, too, Sir?    

We just need to grow our own food which saves us money, it also puts money into the pocket of our people as well. In Ghana, for example, 40 percent of the country’s eligible labor force work in the agriculture industry. You lived and own a home in Accra, Sir, and you well know those people grow what they eat. Unlike roads, agriculture will generate surplus revenues to service whatever loans we may acquire to grow produce.

I have heard arguments that there is enough food and no roads to transport what are grown in rural communities. I doubt these stories are true. Rural people do come to Monrovia to buy food stuffs quite often. Here are two things we need to put in place in the absence of all-weather roads: large scale, commercial farming; storage for produce grown in rural communities. We can hoard the produce in the rural communities when the roads are impassable and transport commodities when those communities become accessible.

We should not and cannot place growing food on the development slate back burner. Right now the level of hardship in the country is reaching crisis proportion. There can be no quick fix to this level of human suffering except we inch gradually into easing the hardship, day by day. One of the fewer permanent resolutions to the hardship is to put food on the table and money in the pockets of our people simultaneously by making them growers and earners. You need to recognize that our people don’t have the skill sets and lack the sophistication to man modern industries. We need to focus in areas where they can quickly and easily benefit, commensurately.

Right now, I see little movement in the agriculture sector as was the case with the administration you’ve succeeded. China has a great success in agriculture and feeds its over one billion people. Sadly, Liberia’s relationship with this great country has been more about everything but agricultural development, especially rice. We have negotiated huge sports and ministerial complexes, university campus, roads, and other things we have found important to the nation but agriculture. The Chinese do grow and eat a lot of rice and we consume a lot of rice and grow none. It beats my imagination why all these years we have not negotiated a Sino-Liberian rice agreement just on growing rice.

Sir, when you share that table with your Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping on September 1, it is my hope that you will figure in top priorities on your agenda agriculture and matters about growing rice in Liberia. I also hope you will instruct your team, when negotiations are open for business, to consider negotiating for equipment, farm implements and expertise to grow rice on large scale in the country. We can target 150,000 acres of land for rice farming as part of the Beijing Agenda. Let’s start with a 10,000 acre of farmland each in Lofa, Bong and Nimba counties as pilot project. This could be incremental annually until we reach our target.

Frankly, Your Excellency, I will question your government’s demonstrated commitment to ending poverty in this country if you will have failed to report on bilateral agreements on agricultural development back to the country upon your return from China in September.

Mr. President, I beseech you to concomitantly carry out your road projects with agricultural development. I will rather suggest you abandon the coastal highway project and instead pave the following roads: Ganta-Zwedru; Ganta-Lougatuo; Zwedru-Greenville; Zwedru-FishTown; Gbarnga-Menikoma (section of this road already in progress); Gbarnga-Buchanan (road through the heartland of Liberia that is never mentioned); Brewerville-Swehn-Bopolu corridor; Bopolu-Voinjama. The impact of these roads will be felt by more citizens and these roads will impact more commerce than the coastal highway.  

Hope you can consider these suggestions as you and your team work to find a way to move this country forward.

Kindest warm regards.

Cheechiay Jablasone
Email: [email protected]

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