In his Address to a group of Broadcast Journalism graduates last weekend, this newspaper's publisher observed that Liberia, despite our vast acreage of green, arable land, was seriously lagging behind, among other things, in food production.
But that is not so in Morocco, a good portion of whose land is desert. Despite that unfortunate fact, that Sahelian nation is highly productive in food and other agricultural goods. That is why Moroccan Agriculture Minister M. Aziz Akhannoueh found himself in a position to extend to the rest of Africa an urgent advice to invest in agriculture as the redeeming factor in the continent's growth, development and progress and in its fight against climate change.
Addressing a group of African journalists invited to Morocco from across the continent, he observed that African nations were indeed contributing to the worsening effects of climate change because they are not investing seriously in agriculture. The less we grow, the more we boost the negative effects of climate change, the more danger to ourselves, he warned.
Our Presidential Correspondent William Harmon was among the African journalists invited to Morocco and keenly focused on Minister Akhannoueh's address. In his lengthy article, published in the Daily Observer's Monday edition, Harmon took time to explain what the Agriculture Minister had to say about what Morocco was doing in agriculture and the great progress the country was reaping as a result.
He quoted the Minister, who disclosed that the long-term Green Morocco Plan (GMP), initiated a few years ago had led, on average, to the agriculture sector contributing 19% of the GDP, with 15% from agriculture and 4% from agro-industry. Agriculture, including fisheries, is considered the main labor employer (38%) of the total national labor force and 75% of the rural workforce. The agriculture sector, said the Minister, also contributes to reducing the mass exodus from rural areas, while bolstering sociopolitical stability.
The GMP, Minister Akhannoueh added, "is built on the principle of aggregation as a tool for development of the agricultural sector; its implementation requires the creation of win-win partnerships between the upstream of production and the downstream of the commercial and industrial phase."
This sector, according to the Minister, has created jobs for 4 million rural inhabitants--that is as big as Liberia's population--and 100,000 jobs for the agroindustry sector.
Contrast that with Liberia where we have, in the past 11 years, failed to focus on agriculture. As a result, we have also failed to reverse the rural-urban exodus created by the civil war. Why? Because we could have reversed the rural-urban migration by investing in rural agriculture and encouraging people to return home to undertake productive and profitable farming.
Remember, too, Minister Akhannoueh's emphasis on "the upstream of production and the downstream of commercial and/or industrial phase."
Contrast that with what happened recently to our Lofa and Nimba rice farmers. Alas! They grew and produced their rice--massive quantities of the national staple--but could find no buyers. The GOL failed to create the commercial response to this most admirable and critical effort by our farmers.
We can see why the Daily Observer, following this sales fiasco, was so critical of the Food Enterprise Development (FED) of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID/FED). The commercial component to Liberian farming initiative is what FED itself said they were keenly interested in--finding markets for farmers' produce. And when at last the farmers produced the rice, they could find no buyers! What, we wondered and still do, was FED up to?
And yet, FED was not the one to blame, but our own government, especially our Agriculture Ministry. The GOL and its Agriculture Ministry, and no one else, are the ones with the primary responsibility to push agriculture in the country. Institutions like FED are only here to help us--or so they say. GOL cannot and must not leave everything to the foreign partners who, we seem always to forget, come with their own agenda.
But that is what governments are for, to FOCUS on the people's business and maintain the focus until the national goals are accomplished. We submit that despite its 11th hour in office, it is not too late for this government to begin making a difference in agriculture. It can start by encouraging our rice farmers, including helping them to refine their rice, adding value to it and finding markets to sell it. The Agriculture Ministry should also flood the country with agricultural extension agents equipped and ready to help the farmers and also the town, city and neighborhood vegetable growers to produce more bitter ball, greens, pepper, banana, pawpaw and plantain to feed their families and supply local markets.
And to in-coming political leaders, we say, come forward with concrete plans to change forever our agricultural landscape by making Liberia food-self-sufficient, most especially in rice.