The Government of Liberia has identified the agriculture sector as an area of prospects for job creation in the country.Liberia's Minister of Finance and Development Planning Samuel Tweah says the country cannot absorb the huge number of young people entering the job market yearly, something, he describes as a serious recipe for crisis and tension.
"In this regard, the Government, its partners and all stakeholders are challenged to open frontiers for all our young people. A major area is the field of agriculture, where business climate challenges of cost of electricity, for example, do not necessarily apply", he notes.
Speaking here Wednesday at the start of a three-day National Economic Dialogue being held at the Ministerial Complex in Congo Town, Minister Tweah discloses that President George Weah and the Government view the agriculture space as the clearest path to short-to-medium term jobs.
He says benefits in the sector are too great and urges participants to develop consensus around agriculture investment as they dialogue on the economy.
"To our bankers in the room, you are sitting on immense vault cash that is NOT making its way to the agriculture sector to improve value chain in domestic food production. So the question is why is money not going in the sector when it is clear that the returns on investment can be large? The Answer is of course, the risks are high", he rhetorically asserts.
Tweah stresses the need to have a serious conversation on de-risking bank lending to the sector, saying, "There is absolutely no way we can transform agriculture if banks do not seriously participate."He adds that to begin with, President Weah had mandated the inclusion of US$ 2 million in the national budget as an agriculture guarantee fund.
"We intend to increase this amount every year. This money is to back more flexible lending terms to the agriculture sector. Firms in agriculture production need very flexible terms, such as one to two year grace period and longer loan maturities."
According to him, Government is ready to put its money where its mouth is by using public resources to relax constraints in transforming the agriculture sector.
Tweah encourages Development Partners to adopt this approach, as Government engages major partners on support for de-risking, as a way to stimulate lending across agriculture value chains involving, road infrastructure, transport, warehousing, storage, inputs supply etc, pointing that in the next three years, Liberians are challenged to put their country on a sustainable path of food security and job creation, using agriculture as a conduit.
The sector under the Weah administration has remained largely dormant in the past one year with mere lip-service by policymakers so much so that the Minister of Agriculture Dr. Mogana Flomo, went down in history as the first member of the Cabinet to receive the ax of the President.
Attending a roundtable with partners and Agriculture Ministry officials in early February this year at the Ministry of Agriculture in Gardnersville outside Monrovia, President Weah re-accentuated the correlation between agriculture productions and economic boom on the one hand and poverty alleviation and national security on the other. "This meeting is necessary because, as I said in my address to the nation, we are not getting what is being put into the sector," President Weah emphatically said. Story by Jonathan Browne