-- Says Rice Value Chain Developer
President George M. Weah in what appeared to be a prerecorded nationwide address on May 19, 2019, described agriculture as critical to the transformation of the Liberian economy. As such, he promised that there would be an increase in the 2019/2020 national budget for agriculture as the beginning of his administration's move toward said agricultural transformation.
The President's statement came against the backdrop of the difficult economic conditions facing the country where the price of basic food commodities are rising rapidly to the distress of the many ordinary citizens, some of whom are smallholder farmers.
But a local rice value chain developer has expressed regret for the 2019/2020 proposed national budget for agriculture, stating that it does not reflect the President's commitment expressed in his nationwide address.
An amount of U.S$6,208,754 has been allotted in the 2019/2020 National Budget for agriculture which is 1.16 percent of the total budget.
Robert Bimba, executive director of the Community of Hope Agriculture Project, made the assertion on his Facebook page.
Since the end of the Liberian civil crisis, there have been numerous concerns by stakeholders in the agricultural sector for increment in the national budget for agriculture to improve the country's struggling economy.
Bimba said that the current allocation is far less than last year's budget which was 1.4% of the total national budget, adding that the amount will only go toward addressing salaries and the little indirect support to farmers.
"The sector cannot grow without research, extension and the provision of improved planting materials," he stated.
According to him, in order to transform the agriculture the government must align with the Malabo Agreement by African Nations to allocate minimum 10% of national budget toward agriculture annually. He added that the administration of Madam Ellen Johnson Sirleaf did not reach 3% allocation for agriculture after serving the country for more than a decade.
"When President Weah said he was going to prioritize agriculture, I was glad. But the current allotment shows that agriculture is not yet a priority. We cannot reduce poverty in the agriculture sector if we continue to depend on aid.
"It will take direct, purposeful and responsible investment by Government, if we claim that agriculture is the engine for sustainable economic growth," he added.
Although, the national budget is yet to be approved by the Legislature, Bimba has called on the lawmakers to consider the need for increment for agriculture.
Bimba is working with more than 10,000 smallholder farmers in eight of Liberia's fifteen counties, developing their capacities in the System of Rice Intensification, an improved technology in rice production.
He told the Daily Observer that the rice value chain is still faced with numerous challenges, some of which his organization is working to address.