Liberia: Renowned Rice Producer, UN Veteran Nominated As Agriculture Minister

Monrovia — Looking to turn the Liberian economy around, President George Manneh Weah on Thursday took a rare step of leaping out of the box of partisan politics in nominating renowned Liberian rice producer and farmer, Ms. Jeanine Cooper as Liberia's new Minister of Agriculture.

If confirmed by the Liberian Senate, Ms. Cooper would become only the second woman to head the post, following the footsteps of Florence Chenoweth, who served from 1977 - 1980 under the Samuel Kanyon Doe regime and from 2011-2015 during the Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf regime.

An Executive Mansion release Thursday said Cooper's nomination which is subject to Senate confirmation, came in the backdrop of months of a rigorous vetting process.

She replaces Dr. Mogana Flomo who was relieved of his duties on June 29, 2019.

Cooper has made her name in the past few years as founded of FABRAR Liberia which she started in 2009 and has been managing since January 2017.

FABRAR specializes in micro-milling operation, purchasing rice from smallholder farmers and growing to become Liberia's largest rice producer, supplying school-feeding and other institutional contracts, as well as supermarkets and retailers.

The company began growing red rice through a consortium of farmers in 2018, giving both men and women experience in the rice production business while exporting to retailers in the United States and Europe.

With the rapidly declining prices of the traditional resources like rubber, iron ore, diamond and gold taking a dip, many economists and international stakeholders see agriculture as the bright spot that could turn Liberia's fortunes around.

In Cooper, President Weah, who has in recent months trumpeted projecting a rebirth of the sector to play a larger role in the country's economy, will be hoping for a jolt in a sector that has been on the receiving end of criticisms.

Last February, the President held a brainstorming session with the ministry and stakeholders in the sector seeking answers to sparking fire in the sector.

Said President Weah at the time: "We see the agriculture sector as important and so we want to bring our partners on the table to strategize ways to develop that sector for the benefits of our people and how we can leave small farming to go into large farming."

Aides say the President has been taking his time to find a replacement because he wanted the best person available with Cooper rising to the top.

Her first order of business could be to increase performance and interest in the agriculture sector and coming up with ways that would help Liberia benefit from the sector.

This is where the administration hopes Cooper's lengthy experience will come in handy.

Before moving home to Liberia to run FABRAR, Ms. Cooper served 13 years with the United Nations. Her last posting was as the Permanent Observer to the African Union and the Economic Commission for Africa and Head of the Liaison Office for the U.N. Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Ms. Cooper also held postings with the UN-OCHA in Kenya and for the Eastern and Southern Africa region.

Speaking to FrontPageAfrica Thursday, the appointee issued a rallying cry to Liberians to help her transform the sector.

Said Ms. Cooper: "I am very grateful to President Weah for this opportunity to serve. I have been a vocal and visible advocate for Liberian Agriculture and I am absolutely honored to be given the chance to work for our farmers and processors; our transporters and marketers; and each and every person in all agricultural value chains. I know that the task is huge; but as I have often said: "it can, and should, be done". The president has assured me of his fullest support; and I am counting on the support of all Liberians to transform our agriculture and boost our ability to feed ourselves."

Ms. Cooper's career spans an additional 10 years of humanitarian work with international NGOs and charitable institutions in Africa. She worked with the first team of Mèdecins Sans Frontières - Belgium, which served Liberians during the civil war in 1990-1996. Ms. Cooper founded a local NGO in Liberia, the Children's Assistance Program, which has served youth since 1991 and is a leading partner in child development.

Ms. Cooper has also supported community-initiated agricultural projects and served on the board of directors of developmental bodies and educational institutions in Liberia and in Côte d'Ivoire. She graduated from Michigan State University in 1982 and has an MSc in Managing Rural Change from the University of London, Imperial College at Wye, earning distinction for her dissertation in 2003. She has completed several certificate courses on business and entrepreneurship.

The newly nominated Minister of Agriculture founded a local NGO in Liberia, the Children's Assistance Program (CAP), which has served youth since 1991 and is a leading partner in child development. Ms. Cooper also managed humanitarian programs in northeastern Kenya and southern Somalia with Vétérinaires Sans Frontières-Suisse from 1991-2003.

She has also supported community-initiated agricultural projects and served on the board of directors of developmental bodies and educational institutions in Liberia and in Côte d'Ivoire.

Ms. Cooper is a graduate of the College of West Africa and holds Master of Science degree in Managing Rural Change from Imperial College from the University of London in 2003. She earlier graduated from Michigan State University, United States of America in 1982 with Bachelor of Arts (BA) degrees in Business Administration and French.

She earned a distinction for her dissertation on "Capitalizing on Liberia's Rubber Sector to Anchor Post-Conflict Reconstruction". She completed several certificate courses in Financing for Development and Public-Private Partnerships as well as Business and Entrepreneurship.

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