Global Policy Forum

Liberia Invests in Farmers to Feed Nation

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By George Fominyen

Reuters AlertNet
May 19, 2010

 


Liberia plans to modernise its agriculture sector with the aim of feeding its own people and becoming a major food exporter in West Africa, the country's deputy minister for agriculture said.

After 14 years of civil war, which ended in 2003, the Liberian government is determined to make up for years of under-investment. Similar neglect has set back agriculture in many African countries, leaving farmers and the wider population vulnerable to climatic and economic shocks, as well as volatile international food prices.

"Maybe the food crisis (in 2008) was a blessing in disguise as it reminded us of the need to streamline our agriculture sector and plan a long-term strategy for national food security," James Logan told AlertNet in the capital Monrovia.

In Liberia, the food price crisis caused severe food insecurity to double in poor urban neighbourhoods and non-producing rural communities who make up two thirds of the population.

The response of the government and donors, including the European Union and U.S. international development agency (USAID), has focused on a move towards long-termfood security.

"We are now working towards a vibrant and integrated agriculture policy that will rationally use our natural resources, to provide food on the table, put money in the pocket, and raise money from exports that will develop the country," Logan said.

The minister said government policy has been given direction by the EU Food Facility - a 1 billion euro ($1.24 billion) instrument established by member states to respond rapidly to high food prices in developing countries.

In Liberia, the facility aims to boost food production by training farmers, rehabilitating lowland swamp areas, setting up a food security data management centre, and linking producers and markets.

The government has designed an agriculture development programme which will be supported by the African Development Bank to the tune of $24.5 million, together with a food enterprise and development project to which USAID is ready to commit $110 million.

"Food security is a priority, the population must eat, and if you look what we are spending to import rice - over $200 million annually - that is not sustainable if we do not increase our own production and modernise agriculture," Logan explained, as big fans pushed air around the ministry's conference room on a hot and humid afternoon.

REBUILDING ROADS

Logan said the ministry wants agriculture to become a business that can create wealth for farmers and boost the economy, as well as meeting food needs.

"It is possible that we can grow all the bananas for export and grow all the oranges we need to make juice, and stop getting juice from Lebanon, or stop getting eggs from India by simply farming our own chickens inLiberia," Logan said.

"It is a big dream but doable...and we have to tie this to the development of our infrastructure to help us reach this goal," the minister said, referring to the country's poor roads, abandoned for years during the war.

"We are not just building roads for the sake of roads."

A key aspect of the national food and nutrition programme formulated by the Liberian government and the United Nations under the EU Food Facility is the rehabilitation of roads connecting farmers and markets by local people, who have been building bridges, culverts and water drainage systems to make them passable in all seasons.

Despite the country's eagerness to develop its farming sector, it has yet to reach the target of allocating 10 percent of the national budget to agriculture agreed by African governments in the 2003 Maputo Declaration.

"In real terms, we have 2 to 3 percent of our budget allocated to agriculture and this is not bad because that is money that goes directly to the farmers in terms of inputs, seeds and more," the minister said.

"We think we might get nearer to the target very soon when we attain the completion point of the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries Initiative (HIPC) and benefit from debt relief."

"The priority is to keep the nation fed," Logan said.


 

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