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The future of the Agri food sector in Liberia

By Moses Owen Browne, Jr.

Liberia is still recovering from decades of instability, a result of the decade-old civil war, which has negatively impacted every imaginable sector in the country.
Although reports show that Liberia has enjoyed uninterrupted growth in the early 1960s, signals of economic crisis came with a dramatic increase in the prices of key agriculture exports.

Unemployment and the prices of food and goods are still high today. Nothing major has happened after more than 10 years of uninterrupted peace and stability. The government of Liberia has introduced several policy documents aimed at reviving the economy, rebuilding damaged infrastructures such as roads, bridges, and etc., but progress is relatively slow.

Access to food is, however, a very serious problem facing the country, and should be one of the main focus of Liberia’s future development plans and strategies. According to recent statistics from the World Bank, IMF and other international partners, unemployment is still widespread standing at approximately (80%), a staggering figure which no independent source has disputed.

Income is non-existent or quite low, and the real cost of food is rising, primarily for rice which is the country’s staple. Salaries earned by few who are employed, namely with organizations involved in humanitarian assistance, feed larger than usual numbers of families members, friends and relatives.

Many Liberians depend largely on remittances from family members or friends abroad to survive. Markets are generally thin with little volume, and characterized by high levels of concentration control by a small group of traders, particularly in the import sector. This structure leads to significant price variability and upward pressure on prices. Just last year, the country witnessed increase in the price of imported rice from $25 to $40 per 50lb bag.

In order to raise adequate awareness and encourage the participation of young people in agriculture and rural development which will in return contribute to Liberia’s economy, I want to borrow from President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf’s 2012 State of the Nation Address to members of the 53rdNational Legislature. Now that the foundation is lay, how can we transform our old economy from a plantation or concessionaires’ economy perceived to run for benefit of a few, to a modern, inclusive economy? There is no magic wand we can wave to turn our subsistence agricultural economy into a vibrant manufacturing economy.

We cannot turn or uneducated and unemployed youths into doctors, lawyers and professors overnight. Liberia like the rest of Africa needs to start rebuilding infrastructures that will drive economic growth and contribute to job creation. It is almost impossible to create new industries in Liberia particularly without the energy to operate machinery, the roads to transport supplies and products, and ports to cheaply export goods to foreign markets, said Madam Sirleaf.

Liberia’s Finance minister Amara Konneh addressing scores of issues recently on the Liberian Economy said “the bottlenecks in the country’s economy as it relates to inflation and unemployment is structural and that growth potential and employment opportunities was only guaranteed mainly through the private sector and service industries.”

According to Konneh, “in spite of a 7% growth Liberia experienced since 2003, the country’s economy still shows little in job creation opportunities to match that growth; adding, that the post-war economic growth achieved by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf since 2006 sustained in 2012.”

“Progress is slow across all sectors of the economy and unemployment, particularly among the young, remains unacceptably high,” said Konneh in a state of the economy address in Monrovia recently.

The key challenges for transforming the agriculture sector where young people can actively participate and feel a part of are basically to increase food crop yields by adopting new techniques and technologies; improving access to seeds, fertilizers, and other inputs, and strengthening linkages to output markets, primarily by rebuilding farm-to-market roads, all of these can work in practice not just theory.

It is also no secret that women are major players in the agricultural sector of Liberia, where they constitute the majority of small-holder-producers in the agricultural labor force in general. They can’t expand their potentials and growth when farming utensils, supplements and technical know-how are lacking. We need to revitalize the food and agricultural sector to contribute to shared, inclusive, and sustainable economic growth and development, provide food security and nutrition, increase employment and income, which will measurably reduce poverty.

The future of Liberia is promising especially for its growing youthful population, however, that future can only be achieved if we as a country and government can ensure that all Liberians have reliable access to the food they need and are able to utilize that food to live active and healthy live. I believe strongly that this process can be accomplished by
increasing food production, making it accessible to all including vulnerable segments of the population, and improving its utilization and systems for coordination and information management. All these necessitate increasing crop yields, taking essential nutrition actions particularly on behalf of children under five and pregnant women.

Moses Owen Browne, Jr, a Communications Development Specialist, currently works as Radio Programming Specialist/Rice Extension Officer for USAID’s Food and Enterprise Development Program for Liberia. He has wealth
of experience in journalism and media capacity development portfolios.
He can be contacted on Cell #: +231-886-493-370 and emails: browne.moses@gmail.com,
mosesbrowne2g6@yahoo.com

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