Agriculture Liberia - On Monday I was at the opening session of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the Ministry of Agriculture (MOA) joint Workshop on rice and aquaculture currently ongoing at the SKD Sports Complex in Paynesville. But before then I was opportune to have been one of the participants of a workshop held in 1993 by CARITAS under the auspices of the Catholic Church of Liberia.
The workshop was intensive and lasted for over a month. We were trained in rice production, horticulture, animal husbandry, proposal writing and budgeting, and as agriculture technicians and extension workers. These two events truly broaden my horizon of the agriculture sector and the way it is perceived by Liberians.
There were four interesting things that took place at the opening of the FAO and MOA joint workshop, which I want to share with you. The first was that we were reminded by a Sierra Leonean participant that Liberia has been involved in aquaculture for the past 60 years (this of course was a surprise news for many Liberians at the workshop), and that hearing one of the speaker talking of integrating the aqua sector into the main stream of the agriculture sector in Liberia as challenges faced by the aqua sector in Liberia, to the Sierra Leonean participant, that was something of a joke. He further stress that Liberia should have overcome these seemingly possible challenges since she has been involved in the aquaculture program for over 60 years now. Therefore, discussing challenges instead of progress was something he saw as a mere joke.
The second was that one of the speakers who happens to be the sectional head of the aquaculture and Inland Fisheries at the Bureau of National Fisheries had no knowledge of the association of local fisheries within the country. Could we say the lack of information is responsible?
The third was an observation shared by a speaker from Bangladesh about his experience of farmland agricultural projects in his home country. He observed that since his arrival to Liberia he has not seen cold water fish on the Liberian market except dead fish imported from outside of the country. He further shared his experience of how they, in Bangladesh, have been able to utilized farmland in their country and are reaping millions of dollars as return on investment but that Liberia which has vast land and a more fertile soil has not been able to utilized its land into meaningful agriculture programs, but is dependent on imported rice. Fellow Liberians, isn't this something we need to think about?
The fourth was a presentation made by the FAO China South-South Cooperation Project in Liberia on their hybrid rice project. The speaker explained about the rice project they are undertaking in Liberia and a part of their recommendation was that their rice be accepted for mass production and public consumption in Liberia. And so when it was time for questions and answers there was a Liberian participant who asked as to whether the seeds would be given by the team to the farmers in Liberia? The team's presenter answer was brief-its business, he replied. We provide you with the product (seeds) and then in return you pay us.
Fellow Liberians, who are those planting the rice that we import in to this country for our consumption? Are they extra-terrestrials or super humans from space? Do they have four heads, four arms and four legs? For how long should we be reminded by others as to utilizing the many opportunities for business in this country and for how long is it going to take us to be able to adjust ourselves so that we become an example to countries within the sub-region?
It is true that there are vast oceans and rivers in Liberia and yet one hardly finds a cold water fish on the market but that we prefer to import dead fish from other countries and are comfortably eating it. There are also vast fertile lands everywhere around us in this country but we prefer to import what we refer to as our major food items, including rice, and without shame we boast about rice being our staple food. And whenever there is a shortage we cause riots or even sometimes wanting to kill each other when we have the same opportunity others had and have utilized. What sort of a people are we? What is wrong with us in this country?
Fellow Liberians, many lives in this country have been sentence to a life time of insignificance. Countless number of us are focused and consumed with trying to make ends meet that survival is our primary preoccupation. We are so enmeshed with survival that the thought of making our lives count does not even cross our minds. We will rather be led than to be the leader. We will rather follow than be the one to give direction. We would rather consume than be the producer. Consequently many in Liberia live a tragic life, passing through life without registering any appreciable impact. The above is who we are. Our natural resources have made others rich and yet we are still languishing in poverty. Go to Sweden and see the work of our Iron Ore. Go to the US and see the work of our rubber. Our own diamonds was used to sponsor our 14 years of bloody civil war. Something is truly wrong with us in this country and we seem to care less about issues that affect us negatively.
In the US, China, Japan and in some parts of Africa with like for instance, Nigeria, farmers including businessmen make up the list of the richest people. Mr. Alico Dangote from Nigeria is an example. According to him he started with N5000,000 Naira (about US$3,000) and today he is worth over US$5 billion dollars and is the richest man in Africa today. He is into agric and other businesses. Similar amounts and even more have been invested into the agric sector by government and NGOs in this country but have not bear any fruit.
In the nations above, agriculture is seen as a business and not as a project as it is being seen by us here in Liberia. Millions of dollars are invested in the sector by those countries or by individuals and the sector has earned huge profits. I have been fortunate to have come across a few farmers in Nigeria that have shared their stories about how they got started, their experiences and challenges as well as their successes and return on investments. One farmer in Nigeria narrated how he started with an equivalent of $200 US Dollars (about N14,000 Naria at the time) as a beginning capital plus his human labor which amounted to an additional but significant portion of his contribution to his aquaculture business some six (8) years ago and today he is worth over $200,000 US Dollars and there are countless number of individuals in Nigeria and in the above countries who will tell you similar stories about their experiences and successes.
And so how then do Liberians perceive agriculture? Before I had the opportunity to attend my very first workshop hosted by CARITAS in 1993, I was made to believe that agriculture was a project with deadline since I was already involved into the NGO sector in Liberia. NGOs would provide seeds to farmers, the rice or vegetable seeds would be planted and the farmer works up his schedule and time limit for his agricultural project and as soon as harvesting is done the farmer looks again to the NGO for another supply of seeds. I have seen most farmers who were unable to received seeds from NGOs for continuation of their agric projects declined. Yes! In school I was taught about the various types of agriculture but practically what that was visible to me was agriculture being done on a subsistence level. Farmers would make their small farms and would later eat their produce.
I have seen NGOs give out money for farming purposes after a proposal has been carved by local farmers or farm-based organizations. But farmers on the other hand have not been able to fully utilize or translate their agric projects into business venture since there is an assurance for another funding when the project duration ends.
But was I wrong for having such a perception when agriculture was not being prioritized at the time in Liberia as education was being prioritized? Was I wrong to think of agriculture as something that could only be done on a subsistence level when I had not seen mechanize farming going on in Liberia, owned and run by Liberians? Was I also wrong for such thinking when in high school those who taught the subject were shallow in the way they presented it? And was I still wrong for having such belief when I could see vast and fertile lands in almost every part of the country not turned into profitable agric business ventures except those owned and run by foreigners with like for instance, the Firestone Rubber Plantation Company?
Fellow Liberians, the truth is that agriculture is a business. It is not a project as it is being perceived here by many in Liberia. And because it is seen as a project those that are involved in the sector treat it as a project-given it duration, a time limit or a deadline and as the duration is expired the project stops, allowing farmers or project teams to write new proposals for funding. Friend, do we see the same with the Firestone Rubber Plantation Company? Do you understand that it is an agric business and/or a long term investment project that has generated hundreds of millions of dollars in profits? I hope the Government of Liberia as well as our international friends and funding partners will get a sense of the message am presenting here in this article and would take a new approach to training farmers as well as funding agricultural programs so that they become long term investment projects that will be sustainable, durable and profitable.
About the workshop, even though the present plight of Liberians demands a lot more in terms of budgeting towards any project or program implementation as it stands from the fact that the concept impressed on the minds of most Liberians is more of dependency owing to the long years of handouts from without, It is also true that the maturity of local NGOs including farmers and farm-based organizations shouldering their financial obligations is still far from being attained. But the most pivotal part, as I observed, is at the inception stage because of the lack of awareness amongst stake holders on the one hand and private and civil society groups, to include farmers and farm-based organizations on the other hand; of the existence of the rice and aquaculture programs and their attendant effects which call for a more intensive involvement of the government of Liberia and its partners both financially and otherwise in the provision of most, if not all the requirements for training and implementation.
My fellow Liberians doesn't the above serves as an inspiration-that we can do more with our natural resources-our rivers, oceans and vast lands, our diamonds and gold, Iron Ore and logs? Fellow Liberians, it is about time we put on a whole new perspective of the way we see agriculture in this country. I want you to know that agriculture is a business. It is a long term investment and must not be seen as a project as it is being seen by most Liberians and local and international non-governmental organizations operating within our borders.
(Chealy Brown Dennis is a marketing and business development consultant. He is also a much sought after motivational speaker and offers training in leadership, personal and organizational development, creative sales, strategic planning, team building and wealth creation. He can be contacted through email at:
By Chealy Brown Dennis
The New Dawn/14/03/2013