Liberia's Agriculture Minister, Jeanie Milly Cooper has projected a three-year agriculture program for the country.
Appearing for budget hearing before the Liberian Legislature Joint Committees on Ways, Means, Finance and Budget over the weekend Minister Cooper disclosed she has developed three years strategic plan for the ministry, adding that the plans include validating six mobilizing programs for second stage implementation, updating the ministry's programs to meet current realities, operationalizing the sector's approved acts, including seeds, food safety, fertilizer and validating the national rice development strategy, respectively.
Speaking of challenges, she said the Ministry of Agriculture experiences weak private sector participation, weak technical and extension advisory services delivery, inadequate technicians, logistical support, limited infrastructure roads, and lack of post-harvest processing facilities.
She said current extension officer-farmers ratio stands at 1 to 35,000, lamenting that inadequate budgetary support hinders the ministry's ability to implement planned agricultural activities, including restriction of technical staff to provide needed technical and extension advisory services to clients due to the COVID-19 pandemic and poor ministry-vendors relationship. She narrated that the ministry's inability to liquidate vendors' obligations for goods and services remains a serious challenge.
Highlighting her major priorities, Madam Cooper pointed to public- private partnership to introduce innovative agricultural financing initiatives, as a way to addressing insolvency in the agricultural sector and low liquidity in the banking sector that should be addressed by direct infusion of cash through agri-business investment incorporates risk-sharing schemes and rural and Small Medium Enterprise (SME) financing models.
She said the ministry, under her leadership seeks to boost local production of staple crops -rice, cassava, edible oils, beans, vegetables - to mitigate imminent slow-downs in global trade, and the worst effects of worldwide recession, while public-private partnership that utilize existing infrastructure and untapped potential for crop production is scaled up to meet demand.
According to her, rubber, cassava, oil palm, rice are four sub-sectors poised to industrialize.
"A stimulus for agro-processors will transform crops and raw materials into consumer-ready food products or, in the case of rubber, finished products. Processing plants for rice, cassava, palm oil, will be set up; and a rubber compounding plant will allow for local production of value-added products."
Outlining progress made during her nearly seven months' stay at the ministry, Cooper told lawmakers she provided US$400,000 to fourteen (14) Rice Hubs for rice value addition SAPEC Project, contributed US$3 million to the COVID-19 food Stimulus Package, completed rehabilitation of 101.5km farm-to-market roads in three counties (Grand Gedeh-36km, Rivergee-34.7km and Maryland-30.8km) plus 43.5km in Rivercess County, bringing to a total 145km roads rehabilitated to date. Rehabilitation of the remaining roads in Grand Kru-28km and Sinoe -24.8km are at various stages of completion, according to the Minister.
She said the Ministry of Agriculture completed construction and refurbishing of four market centers in Maryland, Grand Kru, Grand Bassa and Grand Cape Mount counties, adding "Each market center has a warehouse, children playground, and garbage collection point, borehole with hand pump, perimeter fence, and electricity. Rehabilitation and works on the remaining two market centers in Rivergee and Margibi Counties are ongoing with completion rates ranging from 75% to 95%."
She also pointed to refurbishing the CARI Soil and Crop laboratory, bringing to a total of three soil and crop laboratories, including the University of Liberia and the William V. S. Tubman University, besides three technology transfer centers in Maryland, River Gee and Grand Bassa Counties, respectively, among others.