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Boosting food security in the midst of Ebola

By Francis W. Nyepon      F Nyepon


Liberia’s Agricultural Sector is in an appallingly worrying state due to the lack of  vision, mismanagement, careless investment priority and deficient capacity. Over 3.5 million Liberians or 8 in every 10 persons lack adequate food for a healthy and  active life. Liberia is one of the least food-secure countries in the world, with a  ranking of 182 out of 187, according to the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO).
Our agricultural growth is stalled because we depend too heavily on subsidized imports to feed our people. For instance, over 70% of our food including 93% of our  rice is imported. We cannot grow sufficient food to feed ourselves because those who  manage the sector lack the require vision to transform it; while others seem too  scared to take decisive action because of job security and preoccupation with  politics. As a result, bold, daring and courageous policy initiatives needed to
transform the sector are caught up in politics and self-interest.

In addition, farmers are not encouraged to either contribute to improving the sector
or reorganizing it to guarantee that productivity increases. Instead, the
overwhelming majority of farmers are left to fend for themselves. According to the
United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), between 82 to 92 percent of  Liberian farmers live in extreme poverty without any possibility of upward social
mobility in the next 50 years, if things continue as they are. Likewise,
ensuring transformative success in Liberian agriculture would require that farmers
be given an opportunity to actively engage policymakers or challenge policies that are
disadvantageous to them or to the country becoming self-sufficient in
food production.

When these factors are paired with the effects of Ebola, many Liberians are driven
unnecessarily into hunger and unbearable poverty, as a result. Additionally, combined
these factors with bad roads, dismal transportation system, higher food prices,
decline in farming activities and restrictions in cross-border agriculture trade
along with limitations in inter-country food supply routes; then, one can envision
the severity of the distress, which plagues Liberia’s productive agricultural sector
and causes it to be stalled. Ebola has made growing, trading, purchasing and
obtaining food extremely difficult for millions of Liberians. It has caused poor crop
yields on the one hand. On the other hand, it has caused tremendous dependency on
donors to supply the country with food. Moreover, the situation has been exacerbated
and made more complex by the extreme poverty that exists in the country.

Existing socio-economic vulnerabilities require a new vision. An analysis by the WFP
concludes that over three and one half million Liberians are currently having
difficulty getting food because of Ebola and socioeconomic vulnerabilities. And the
situation could get worse if bold new food policies aren’t immediately introduced to
effectively deal with the situation. This author’s visit to the heartland observed
the planting season without regular agricultural activities taking place or being
performed in a meaningful way to yield results. Indisputably, in 2015, there will be
substantial shortage and higher prices for food due to disruptions in the
agricultural sector that has been compounded by Ebola.

The Ebola crisis can certainly be used to ‘grow’ Liberia’s productive agricultural
sector in order to enhance productivity and assemble the skill sets needed to
guarantee recovery and reform the sector in a more holistic manner. Recent visits by
this author to five counties, two of which were the country’s breadbasket, reveal
some shocking indicators that do not help in supporting and promoting food
security. During these visits, the author observed severe disruption in the sector
with vital farming activities severely reduced. For instance, families that comprise
the majority of small-scale farmers were staying away from their farms due to Ebola.
Similarly, cross-border agriculture trade and inter-country food supply routes with
Guinea, Sierra Leone and the Ivory Coast were disrupted. Likewise, transportation was
a major stumbling block intransferring food to market. Equally, the roads that
connected farms to markets were cordoned off; while, crucial passageways that link
major commercial centers of trade to the people, were appalling and atrocious. The
author also discovered entire sections of the border in Bong, Nimba, River Gee,
Grand Gedeh, and Maryland severely barricaded, limiting or completely being brought to
a stand still, cruelly suffocating critical social and economic links.

The impact of Ebola on critical sectors of the economy, like agriculture and food
security can be remedied by homegrown strategic policy alternatives. Agriculture, for
all of its man-made shortcomings in Liberia, can inevitably provide that comparative
advantage for sustainable development in terms of food security, nutrition and
health. Therefore, Liberia has this unique opportunity to better harmonize and
target food security as a prudent area for obtaining real sustainable economic
growth. However, policies should be promulgated along with the appropriate vision
to better manage our resources in order to better lay out an engaging roadmap
with direct implication for social expansion.

Restructuring the agricultural sector in the midst of Ebola could boost food security
in Liberia. The Ebola crisis presents a strategic opportunity for Liberia to obtain
greater food security. The development and modernization of our agricultural sector
can be the catalyst and platform from which a successful roadmap can be laid, and huge
accomplishment in food security achieved within 3-5 years. Inorder to accomplish
this goal, however, the following should be considered:

·        First, we can improve our agriculture productivity growth by employing a
more skillful and visionary management team at the Ministry of Agriculture.
·        Second, we can boost food security by decreasing our dependence on imported
foods; especially, rice.
·        Third,we need to implement innovative policy initiatives to develop a
pluralistic, decentralized, demand-driven and market-oriented system nation-wide
and sector-wide.
·        Fourth, our government must painfully go out of its comfort zone to
encourage the participation of farmers’ cooperatives and small holder farmers in
critical decision making process to make the sector prosper in a more
beneficial manner.
·        Fifth, we should employ a calculated strategy to expand the purchasing power
of vulnerable groups and local communities through employment,
training, capacity-building and empowerment zones.
·        And finally, the government needs to significantly invest in the sector
with a bold new initiative that allocates at least 15-20 percent of our annual
national budget to the sector.

In addition, Liberia’s agricultural growth needs to be fuelled by expanding
cultivated areas in every county to enhance better capacity to augment productivity.
In addition, bold new investment priorities, farm-to-market road networks should be
prioritized, along with building transportation hubs and transport services to better
facilitate the efficient movement of foods across the country. Furthermore, bold new
policy initiatives should guarantee low interest loans and credit facilities
for small-scale farmers to purchase fertilizers and seeds, as well as,
build irrigation and water management systems. These are some of the
superficial barriers, which consistently deny Liberian farmers access to credit in
order to increase productive capacity.

These are the solutions and answers, which this author finds are practical in
addressing food insecurity in Liberia in the midst of Ebola. Boosting food security
in Liberia at this time is critically important. Our agricultural sector needs
vision, leadership and bold new decision to move the sector forward in a holistic
manner, not recycled politicians and cronies who continue to run Liberia’s
agriculture sector amok. Social, economic and political disruptions cannot continue
to plague our country as they have done in the past. Our leaders must now seize
this opportunity to make Liberia better by improving living standards, providing basic
services, and definitely insuring food security through adequate food production for
a healthy and active life for all Liberians. Liberia’s economy is predominantly
agrarian, yet our policymakers do not seem to truly comprehend the magnitude of
its impact on our society. Liberians can do better. Liberians must do better. The
failure to boost food security is too grave to comprehend. If our leaders do not rise
to the occasion, then, the majority of Liberians will continue to remain hopelessly
disadvantaged, adversely deprived and linger in abject poverty for generations.

For eight years our annual budget was over half a ‘Billion’ United States Dollars.
Yet, investment in our agriculture sector has been under 10 percent of the
annual budget. As a consequence, there have been minimal improvements in the
sector rebuffing true transformation from take place. Also, investing, monitoring and
evaluation of the sector were extremely weak during this past eight years. This is
because our government does not prioritized food security as an important component
of growth; therefore, our high economic growth rate over the past eight years did not
yield tangible results for average Liberians, except for those well-connected at the
top. Living standards especially for farmers have substantially dwindled to almost
nothing. So, how can farmers grow more food when they are severely challenged?

Francis W. Nyepon ia an Author, PolicyAnalyst, Environmentalist & Entrepreneur <>

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