"Until we manage to turn agriculture around, feed ourselves quantitatively and qualitatively, our people will remain at risk of famine, hunger and malnutrition," these were the words of President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf at the ongoing African Green Revolution Forum (AGRF) taking place in the Ivorian capital, Abidjan.
She said Africa missed the first Green Revolution but was quick to add that "we must seize the moment and tackle food urgency, while we protect the environment by reducing the land mass used for cultivation."
The Liberian leader said the forum comes at a time when Africa is more coordinated than ever in its policies and strategies and this synergy bodes well for the collaborative approach needed for a successful Green Revolution.
She recalled that it was back in July 2004, that Mr. Kofi Annan called for an African centered Green Revolution; noting other regions were far ahead and still ahead in making land more productive, ensuring food security, reducing the time of wait and safeguarding nature.
President Sirleaf described Cote d'Ivoire as a country that has made great progress in Green Revolution, adding it is reported that Cote d'Ivoire per hectares production puts the country well entrain to achieve that of South Korea and other Asian countries in their green revolution program.
While expressing the hope that the 7thAGRA forum could be characterized by a lot of thought process and experience, she stressed the need to accelerate the implementation phase.
The President commended AfDB for taking the lead by making available seed funding of $24 billion for the next 10 years for the Green Revolution. This, she added is an important step that requires follow-up actions at the policy level, at the market level, at the level of smallholders as well as at the level of agribusiness.
She also lauded the AfDB for the several initiatives that have been formulated to propel the Green Revolution.
"The Feed Africa Strategy seeks to transform Africa agriculture over the next decade into a competitive and inclusive agribusiness sector that will create wealth, improve ties and secure the environment;" while Empowering Novel Agri-Business led Employment (ENABLE Youth) seeks to empower young graduates at each stage of the agribusiness value chain," she indicated.
President Sirleaf called for investing together in research and development; emphasizing instead of small inadequately equipped national research centers adding "we could all invest in one state of the art regional agricultural research."
She referred to the West African Rice Development Agency - originally statured and housed in Monrovia but had to relocate to Cote d'Ivoire as some good precedence for collaboration in line with the Green Revolution. She said it has been a good example of partnership in research from which Liberia has benefitted.
On the issue of land, she said - a fundamental input in economic production from the agriculture sector has been a long time challenge for Liberia.
She said a Constraint Analysis undertaken in 2013 indicates that agriculture land is about 27% of the country's land areas, but only 4.8% under cultivation.
The president revealed that forestry constitutes 45% of the total area and several mining and agriculture concessions have been granted lands rights.
The Liberian leader was quick to point out that underdevelopment cited is due to a historical land tenure system and weak land governance that have hindered land access for smallholder agriculture also contributed to continued land disputes that interrupted agriculture operations.
President Sirleaf told the gathering that in 2007, Liberia launched a "Back to the Soil" campaign to empower smallholder farmers as a key to Liberia's recovery and long-term development; while in 2008, developed the Food and Agriculture Policy and Strategy (FAPS) in line with the Poverty Reduction Strategy (PRS) to promote a Private Sector-led growth aimed at long-term sustainability both in food self-sufficiency and competitiveness in Agricultural export commodities.
She recounted that in the past ten years, through investment in small farm holders, Liberia more than double its production of basic staples common in the sub-region.
According to her, these smallholder farmers are mainly staple food crops (rice and cassava) producers; and underscored that rice production has increased from 145,000 metric tons in 2006 to over 320,000 metric tons in 2016.
The Liberian leader told the Forum that Cassava which is the second staple food for Liberia experienced significant increase in production, which increased from a net weight of 640, 000 metric tons in 2006 to 1.6 million metric tons in 2008.
"This steady growth in cassava production has been maintained up to 2016. The improvement in both domestic rice and cassava production contributed to an overall growth of 6.4% in the Agriculture Sector in 2016," she intimated.
She further highlighted the launch of the "Farmers' e-registration Program" to provide data and support evidence-based policy measures was launched in 2016, and by January 2017 the scheme had registered 320,000 farmers. "Working through Private Sector actors, Government provided agriculture input support to 55,000 registered farmers for the 2017 planting season.
President Sirleaf is quoted as saying "in the past two years, a Land Authority has been established and has transformed traditional land ownership document into proper title deeds a Land Right Act is before the National Legislature that will give full land rights and membership to communities; as well as new forestry laws to ensure conservation without compromising commercialization, which comes with the support of Norway."
She concluded by saying although we have yet a long way to go, but as a result of these measures and improvement in infrastructure, small holder agriculture production is on a rise - ensuring Liberia a place in transformation of the agriculture sector engendered by the Green Revolution.
Over 750 delegates and high-level dignitaries, including African Heads of States, Ministers, and key stakeholders in the agricultural sector are attending the forum.