Towards a genuine agricultural policy for Liberia?
Momagri Editorial Board
January 23, 2017
On 30th December 2016, the Government of Liberia adopted a decree, with immediate effect, to extend the suspension of customs duties on imports of farmed animals, grain and agricultural equipment and this, according to the government’s wishes, with a view to promoting agriculture and increasing the nation's food self-sufficiency1.
The President of Liberia, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, also president of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) for a year, has made economic development one of her hobbyhorses. In the framework of ECOWAS, she recently announced her intention to emphasize the domestic capacities of the countries of the community, in particular during the current negotiations between ECOWAS and Europe on the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA)2.
For Moses Zinnah the current Minister of Agriculture, “Africa spends around 35 billion USD per year on food imports, even though the continent owns 65% of the world's arable land and in the case of Liberia, 100 Million USD is spent annually to import rice, our staple food”. In order to free itself from this dependence, it encourages “farmers to progress from subsistence farming to mechanized farming thanks to an ongoing partnership and the clear dissemination of policies”3.
Liberian agriculture suffers from serious handicaps. While this sector employs more than half of the Liberian work force, farmland is underutilized, with yields falling considerably since the civil war between 1989 and 2003 and the consequences of the Ebola virus between 2013 and 20154. The main crops are rice, manioc and cocoa, but the country remains heavily dependent on imports of agricultural produce. Nonetheless, Liberia would like to revive its farming, the country’s economic pillar, and follow Kenya’s model for agricultural development. Indeed, the development of Kenya's agri-food industry sets an example for many countries in terms of agricultural development and export capacity5.
Liberian agricultural policy is thus in the process of being redefined, and even though there is a will for development, agriculture still suffers from the weakness of the public authorities. To shake things up, a national newspaper, the Liberian Observer, recently called on the Liberian government to implement a genuine national agricultural policy. In one of their articles6, the newspaper warns against the risk of the recurrence of situations where, in the absence of support from the authorities, particularly in the construction of sectors, farmers seeking to develop their yields to satisfy national needs may find themselves in serious difficulties. The example of rice producers in a region of Liberia that didn’t find outlets for its harvests is emphasized to demand that the authorities set up aid to assist in the structuring of sectors.
“Without agriculture, there is no development”, recently stated Akinwumi Adesina, the new President of the African Development Bank. And it is precisely to make this equation work that government support is necessary in the constitution of the sectors so that the farmers’ efforts to revive necessary harvests do not go unheeded. The appeal made by the journalists of the “Liberian Observer” is a perfect example of this.