Infrastructural improvement as it relates to agricultural development has been the main message of presidential and electoral district representative aspirants as Liberia prepares to vote on October 10.
Most presidential and district representative aspirants professed that good farm to market roads and produce storage and processing facilities can shoot the nation's agriculture sector rocket high, attracting investment, contributing to the nation's GDP and mitigating the high rate of unemployment. However, food crop production is understood to be the focus of presidential and representative aspirants as many are talking about raising rural farming activities to a mechanized level.
Moreover, food crop production and plantation crop (cash crop) have been cultivated for years, with food crops dominating the sector, though still at subsistence level.
These two productions account for 60 percent empowerment of the nation's population, and also recorded 48 percent contribution to Liberia's Gross Domestic Product (GDP), according to the Central Bank of Liberia (2009).
Moreover, Agriculture Engineering Infrastructure Development that presidential and electoral district aspirants have been emphasizing of late is apparently not the main factor in Liberia's slow pace toward commercial agriculture or mechanized agriculture, despite having its own significance to agricultural progress in Liberia - such as mitigating the spoilage percentage of produce, making produce available to markets and accessible to consumers.
However, two serious challenges to Agriculture Engineering Infrastructure Development are post-harvesting methods and storing techniques that many farmers in Liberia are not familiar with.
But with just five days to the presidential and general elections voters especially farmers are having some level of pride as their profession seems to be prioritized. But the roadmap to improving Liberia's agriculture sector has not been explicitly elaborated on by presidential and district representative aspirants.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization's (FAO) Country Pasture and Forage Resource Profile, Liberia's arable land comprises 47 percent, with uplands containing 41 percent and lowlands 6. Also, pasture land is estimated to be 182,000 hectares, but sustainable usage of land, cultivation of crop varieties and good agricultural policy are drivers that have been underestimated.
Soil Fertility Status
Soil Fertility has to do with the soil's ability to provide essential nutrients in adequate amounts and in proper balance for plant growth given that light, moisture, oxygen, temperature and other growth factors are favorable.
The consequence of soil fertility is unbearable for most rural families that solely depend on food crop production as an end-meet as they witness crop stoutness that most often result to poor yields year round.
Also, soil that does not have all of the nutrients that plants need for proper growth are often replenished through fertilizers, be they organic or synthetic. However, testing of soil fertility status is still an ongoing challenge and farmers struggle with fertilizer application since most don't have the knowledge on how to properly use fertilizers.
The reverse of this challenge is active soil fertility evaluation since its goal is to measure the nutrient supplying power of the soil prior to growing season, which could put farmers at a profitable advantage since they will know the soil nutrient capacity as well as make better planting decisions.
Crop varieties are mostly considered because of their use of nutrients and water efficiently, their greater resistance to insects, pests and diseases, and their survive in the midst of climate change impacts that include drought, flood, frost, high temperature, economic value and disease resistance.
In the midst of farm to market roads, storage facilities, abundant farming machines in Liberia, if crop varieties that are planted are prone to diseases and pests and can barely survive under harsh conditions like flood, drought and high temperatures, farmers could be forced or compelled to find an alternative that would sustain them and their families.
A Win-Win Agricultural Policy
Agricultural development is tied to many sectors, as education, health and sanitary facilities, and transportation infrastructure play a key role to sustainable agricultural development.
However, property rights, little access to finance, land usage, taxes, poor labor skills, labor cost, electricity among others are hurdles challenging a win-win agricultural policy, besides the infrastructure development that presidential and representative aspirants are talking about.
When these challenges are considered in agricultural policy, Liberia could see itself in a competitive box attracting investors that are running to other African countries. Moreover, an effective and attractive agricultural policy should also consider other complimentary sectors to Liberia's agriculture sector.