20 May 2014

Liberia: Struggling With City-Based Rice Farm - Where's Ministry of Agriculture?

The first is a creation by the government of came out during the leadership of Late Liberia's President Samuel Kanyon Doe--Liberia's 20th Head of State--during the government's agricultural program tagged "Green Revolution".

This came few years after he took power from William R. Tolbert through a palace coup in 1980. Considered the first indigenous Liberian Head of State, President Doe initiated the "Green Revolution" to draw Liberians' attention to farming especially the cultivation of rice--Liberians' staple food.

The "Green Revolution" was a clarion call to swift Liberians' reliance on foreign nations for their stable--rice--and several other foods. During this time, Liberians' systems had got used to rice--U.S. parboiled. The foreign rice, called 'pussawa' in the Liberian parlance, came through owners of American-owned Firestone Rubber Plantation in Harbel, Margibi County, specifically for the Company's Liberian workers. The Doe government's agricultural initiative was also to prevent reoccurrence of the famous "Rice Riot", one year before he took power, where hundreds of Liberians were murdered by security forces while staging street protest against increase in price of a 100kg bag of rice from US$20 to US$30.

The second slogan is from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations. It advises--and challenges--Liberians (among other nations' citizens) to produce their native foods.

However, Liberians have never appeared spurred by any of these slogans. Majority of Liberians are not interested in being a farmer, which causes the government and private business people to import much of the foods the citizens survive on. This disinterest has engendered a beggar's syndrome, or reliance virus, in all Liberians. There are reports of some Liberian rural dwellers coming to the urban center (Monrovia) to buy pepper, okra, tomato and other farm produce that should be grown where they live. Most of these farm produce come from farmers in Ivory Coast, Guinea and Sierra Leone, three of Liberia's sister-nations.

Each Liberian government, since 1847 when the country was given a sovereign status, is noted for begging other nations' governments for rice. The post-war era is worse with world-class Liberian Economist and Agriculturalists in government unable to get the nation at the self-reliance state. Instead, they are taking begging bowl around to the Taiwanese or Japanese government to drop free grains of rice into the bowl. This is happening when Harvard University-trained President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf government, for example, has an agriculture Minister with a fat degree in Agriculture and has the FAO's 'End Hunger' Award for 2011. However, few Liberians are working harder on getting Liberia at the 'self-reliance' state, in spite of variety of financial or logistical challenges.

Mr. Anthony Yarkpawolo is one of them. He is the Founder and Chief Executive Officer of the MOWA's Agriculture Association, or MAA, Inc., a rice production Company. The farm is at the Zinc Camp neighborhood in Lakpazee Community in Sinor-Airfield of the Nation's Capital, Monrovia.

"The community people offered me this place to do my farming works", Mr. Yarkpawolo said to the New Republic during harvesting of rice on the farm yesterday. "I got the place in 2009 and started farming the same year. Nobody is worrying me over landownership matters here."

The paper met twenty-one male and females workers harvesting. Female workers were 25 including two under-18 workers. One was Sekou Massaquoi, 15, a 6th Grade student of the Matadi Community Elementary School in the vicinity. "I come to work here when school closed", he told the New Republic.

The other younger worker was Annie Yarkpawolo, 16, niece of the farm owner's brother who was also one of those harvesting.

One of the female workers, Madam Alice Kollie, 33, who had taken her young baby to the farm, told the paper she started work 2009. "I have always taken part in clearing and harvesting since this place came to being", she said.During clearing for a new farming year, each of the workers takes a spot and charges for its clearance.

"They charge based on the size of the portion", Mr. Yarkpawolo added, but couldn't state the amount charged per plot or portion.

On harvesting, he said each worker is given some quantity of the processed rice with two hundred Liberian dollars. "Each worker was given rice with money for the first three years, from 2009, but I'm now giving them food because nobody is now buying the rice."

Mr. Yarkpawolo explained of several challenges in spite of officials of the Ministry of Agriculture, the USAID-sponsored Food and Enterprise Development (FED) and UN Food and Agriculture Organization visiting the farm occasionally.

"Sometime, they come here, take photos of the farm and promised to assist with tools, but we can't see them again until they appear to promise again and take photos", he complained.

He noted that in 2009, the Ministry of Agriculture invited him and other farmers to a five-day workshop, where the MoA gave him US$5O for the five-day workshop excluding cutlasses, shovels and holes, and promised to continuously support him. "Since that time I never get any help from them", he revealed.

He expressed hope that the Liberian government and its development partners would recognize his effort of making Liberia self-sufficient in his little way and providing employment for dozens of other Liberians, especially the youth.

Only a genuine commitment of the Liberian government on Liberia's agricultural growth would make Mr. Anthony Yarkpawolo's dream a reality.

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