President George Manneh Weah has nominated a new Minister of Agriculture, pending confirmation by the Liberian Senate. A female, Madam Jeanine Cooper is the second woman appointed to that office since ex-minister Florence Chenoweth , who served the Tolbert administration up to the bloody military coup in 1980 and subsequently the second term of the Sirleaf administration from 2011 to 2017.
President Weah reportedly went thru a meticulous vetting process to come up with the name of Ms Jeanine Cooper who will take charge of a very crucial sector of the economy, after senate confirmation. A farmer and rice producer herself with wealth of experience in the private sector, we have no doubt about her academic qualification and capability to revive the agriculture sector.
But we sincerely hope that President Weah would provide all necessary support for Ms Cooper to do the job. It is our fervent prayer that she would not be treated as mere furniture in the Ministry of Agriculture with no tools to work with, like in the case of Vice President Jewel Howard Taylor, who has publicly complained of lack of support.
The fact that it took the President about more than six months to appoint a new Minister of Agriculture after Dr. Mogana Flomo was dismissed from the post does not demonstrate the government sees agriculture as a priority, if this country is to move forward.
For a government that came to power, alarming that it met a broke economy to delay in even appointing a minister of agriculture nearly a year even after assuming office cast a serious dark cloud on its professed intention to make Liberia self-sufficient in food.
Friendly governments and international partners are watching us as a people to see where lies our priority; is it in politics, business or activities that don't bring us profitable returns. We believe a great opportunity is here to lift ourselves out of poverty and hunger by prioritizing agriculture.
The New Dawn, along with several other dailies was privileged sometime last November to cover a one-day policy dialogue organized by the Governance Commission integrating value addition into small-scale agriculture for sustained domestic revenue growth where Ms Jeanine Cooper spoke very passionately about potentials in the sector if supported by government.
That's what she needs to get the job done. Coming from an entrepreneur background, she has the discipline required to succeed in this sector which has great prospects for the youth. If we can grow enough food to feed ourselves as a nation, Liberia could be on its way out of stagnation and dependency.
We are also aware that the executive alone would not revitalize the sector; it would require support of the Legislature that approves the national budget. And this is where political will comes in. The agriculture sector would not thrive if lawmakers on Capitol Hill see luxurious cars, fabulous salary and benefits as priorities rather than issues that affect the entire country.
In a nutshell, government's professed interest in the agriculture sector does not end at just appointing a minister, but providing budgetary support, including logistics that would enable this country to graduate from shifting cultivation to mechanized farming that would pave the way for export.