Removing Tariffs, Good, But Where Is Our Agriculture Policy?

The issuance of Executive Order No. 81 further suspending tariff on agricultural equipment, live animals for breeding and seeds for agriculture is a significant step by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf toward promoting the nation’s agriculture sector.

The aim, according to a GOL release, is to increase agricultural production toward food self-sufficiency.

We urge GOL, in addition, to take concrete steps toward a well-conceived and effectively implemented National Agriculture Policy toward food and other farm self-sufficiency.

GOL is called to take several measures here. The first is to make sure that what happened to our Lofa rice farmers exactly a year ago never happens again. These farmers, inspired by John Selma, grew thousands of metric tons of rice, but found no buyers.

The Agriculture Ministry did not come forward with a decisive response and for months these beleaguered farmers were struggling—and a year later are still struggling to find buyers. Selma had to find loans to buy milling equipment to mill the rice and store it. This was highly dangerous, for it could easily have discouraged farmers from returning to their farms.

Did the Agriculture and Commerce Ministries help the Lofa farmers sell their rice? We do not know, despite repeated follow-ups by our Farm Reporters, Judomoe Kollie and Gloria Tamba. Agriculture Minister Moses Zinnah knows both of these Farm
Reporters, who are regularly in touch with him on agricultural issues.

The shortage of agricultural extension agents is another issue that the Daily Observer has frequently revisited, calling on successive Agriculture Ministers to deploy a far greater number of these agents throughout the country to help farmers with modern techniques in order to improve their agricultural productivity.

Midway during her tenure as Agriculture Minister the Daily Observer informed Agriculture Minister Florence Chenoweth that the people of Todee had told a Vision 2030 Consultation that they had not seen an agricultural extension agent there in 15 years.
But Minister Chenoweth said that was “not true.”

Our Environmental and Roving Correspondent, Edwin Fayia, visited Todee yesterday, Thursday, January 5, 2017 and here is what the Chairman of the Nyein Swamp Rice Development Association, William Johnson, told Reporter Fayia: “To date, not a single agricultural extension agent has been deployed or assigned in Todee District.”

Chairman Johnson confirmed that indeed since 2006 they had not seen any extension agent in Todee District. Before the war, however, Chairman Johnson recalled that agricultural extension agents regularly visited them and even accompanied Todee farmers to their farm sites to teach them various techniques and help them maximize production.

One of the fundamental principles of good governance is honesty. Without an honest government or honest people working for it, the future of any country is endangered.

Another issue that this newspaper’s Farm Page has been highlighting is Liberia’s vegetable, meat, poultry and egg production.

But the overriding premise (basis, foundation) of enhanced, increased and sustained farm production is a well-defined and seriously implemented NATIONAL AGRICULTURE POLICY.

We have asked repeatedly, do we have an Agriculture Policy? The current Agriculture Minister, Dr. Moses Zinnah, knows that we have asked this question, yet he has not elected to tell us what it is, if there is one.

Take for example vegetables. How long shall we continue to import bitter balls from Guinea or fresh tomatoes from the Ivory Coast? Take beef. How long shall we continue to import cattle from Guinea or rain-starved Mali?

This newspaper has repeatedly urged GOL and other stakeholders, including prominent citizens, especially from Grand Kru County (Grand Cess), Foya, Lofa County, and various parts of Nimba County, where cattle are reared, to invest in cattle raising.

This would help us become self-sufficient in beef and even export to other African countries, and Europe, just as Kenya is doing.

On Wednesday, September 7, 2016 we published a story reporting the opening of a new slaughter house in Careysburg. At Christmas, people went to Careysburg to buy meat from the new slaughter house, only to be told that it was “not yet in operation.”

Does the Agriculture Ministry know of the status of that “new slaughter house?”

That is why we need a National Agriculture Policy—one which would enable the Agriculture Ministry to undertake proper monitoring of every agricultural program in the country. We pray that we will get one—if not now, then in 2018, when a new government takes office. We, however, applaud this tariff extension on these vital agriculture-related imports, but under the same breath we urge GOL to work hard on a National Agriculture Policy.

Liberian Observer

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