Farmers in the St. Paul River settlements, such as Caldwell, Clay Ashland, Crozierville, Millsburg, Virginia, etc., have extensive experience in growing sugar cane. This crop has also been grown extensively in Bong, Lofa and Nimba counties.
The crop requires intensive labor, and sugar cane farmers have focused mainly on the manufacture of cane juice. They have produced some of the world's strongest cane juice. In addition to selling the raw cane juice, however, the furthest our farmers have ventured is putting cane juice on roots to make it even stronger.
But unlike the Caribbean farmers, especially those in Cuba and Jamaica, Liberians have not ventured into making various brands of rum and other alcoholic beverages. Why have we been so slow in adding value to our cane juice?
More importantly, however, why are we in Liberia still importing all the sugar we consume? What happened to the sugar factory in Cape Palmas, Maryland County which was started during the Tolbert administration in the 1970s? Sugar cane can grow all over Liberia. So we need to undertake a serious investigation as to how we can develop our sugar producing industry, using our vast, fertile acreage that will empower us not only to become self-sufficient in sugar but even to export.
In addition, our cane juice farmers should seriously consider adding value to their produce, so that we may begin producing our own brands of Liberian rum and other beverages.
George Harris, one of our Agricultural reporters, was absolutely right when, in a piece on our Business page last Thursday, he described sugar cane as "Liberia's overlooked treasure."
We urge the government of President George Weah to begin looking seriously into our sugar cane industry and finding ways as to how it may be developed and expanded to produce a wide variety of products, including sugar and other by-products as well as many other alcoholic beverages in addition to cane juice.
Sugar, rum and other alcoholic beverages constitute only one aspect of the immense agricultural prospects that we have failed to pursue in Liberia. Today we challenge the Colleges of Agriculture of the Universities of Liberia and Cuttington, the nation's two oldest institutions of higher learning, to begin undertaking serious research into improving agricultural development in Liberia. We urge Presidents Ophelia Weeks of UL and Cuttington's Herman Browne to find the financial resources to put their scholars to work, with the aim of helping Liberia to move forward creatively and decisively in agricultural development.
In this effort we, of course, must include the Central Agricultural Research Institute (CARI), which can surely work with UL and CU in developing creative ideas and strategies along these lines, so that we may begin seriously to develop Liberia's vast agricultural potential.
It is about time, is it not? We have been blessed with extensive green acreage, with abundant rainfall, with so many rivers, lakes, creeks and streams--so water is no problem. And in recent years many agricultural technocrats have been trained to the Master's and PhD levels. Let us find these people and put them to work, especially our agronomists and soil scientists. And let us be very serious in these initiatives so that soon we can achieve concrete results.