Bleak future for Liberia’s agriculture sector
Many local farmers have over the years complained about the lack of technology center (machines) to enable them add value to their produce, improved market linkages and deplorable farm to market roads. These existing challenges limit opportunity for local farmers.
Over US$200 million is extracted from Liberia’s economy every year to import rice into the country; something, experts say leaves the already shaky economy in predicament. The intricacies of hullabaloo connected with rice in Liberia have a deep root in the country’s civil crisis and the collapse of all of its sectors.
According to a 2009 Central Bank of Liberia report, agriculture contributed 42% of the national Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in 2008 and food crops sub-sector still dominates agriculture’s contribution to the national GDP.
The country’s Ministry of Agriculture has, over the years, performed dismally to solve the problem as local farmers remain unable to provide 50% of the total amount of rice consumed annually in the country. President Ellen Johnson Sireaf has appointed individuals with remarkable résumé to help transform the sector; but the end has not justified the means.
Backed by several international partners including the African Development Bank and the United States Government through its Agency for International Development (USAID), the Ministry of Agriculture can boast of massive support despite existing lapses.
For example, the US has its biggest Africa base agriculture project in Liberia – only second to the South American country, Haiti, in the world. The USAID sponsored Food Enterprise Development (FED) is a five year’s US$75 million project which began since 2012. And with the clock ticking for the project to shutdown in September 2016, there are concerns over sustaining the gains the project has made.
Newly appointed Minister of Agriculture, Dr. Moses Zinnah, often sounds pretty much optimistic when speaking to the press. However, the traits of low-key performances of his predecessors cast a dark show over his prospect. “Five years from now my aim is to ensure that we have a lot of private sector involvement. We as a Ministry will be really focus on regulatory issues, policies and creating the environment for private sector to thrive,”
Transforming the country’s agriculture sector to a private investment sector is a herculean task because more than 70% of the country’s population relies on it as a source of livelihood. Even President Sirleaf has acknowledged the need to mobilize private investments in other to improve the value chain from land and water management to market access. But first, local farmers empowerment is crucial to reducing import dependency and limiting unemployment.
“We want to identify those who are really doing well in farming – private people; private citizens – and see what are the constraints they are facing so that we will help them to be able to get improve planting materials like seeds, cassava cuttings – if they are in livestock – the best breeds, so that their farming can be improved,” Minister Zinnah assured.
Many local farmers have over the years complained about the lack of technology center (machines) to enable them add value to their produce, improved market linkages and deplorable farm to market roads. These existing challenges limit opportunity for local farmers. A Liberian rice processing company, Fabrar Liberia in 2014 opted to become the country’s largest with eyes on buying rice from local farmers.
“The opportunity for local rice is enormous. Many people think it’s difficult to compete with imported rice, but this rice has a natural advantage; it’s grown here in Liberia,” a USAID-FED release quoted the company’s CEO, Fabio Lavelanet in 2014 while purchasing rice from local farmers in Lofa County.
Fabrar’s optimism is to provide competition for imported rice by supplying rice to government but this is only achievable when local farmers across the country improve their quality of farming by transforming to a more mechanized sector.