By David A. Yates
As efforts to promote value addition to Liberia’s agricultural produce remain a concern, the Liberian Business Association (LIBA), in partnership with the Liberia Food Production Program (LFPP), has emphasized Agriculture as a sector with promising prosperity which, if invested in, will bring the expected reward.
In a meeting held at the Ministerial Complex in Congo Town, attended by the Ministries of Agriculture, Commerce and Industry, Internal Affairs, and Labor, as well as the National Investment Commission (NIC), Farmers Union Network of Liberia, Subah-Belleh Associates, as well as the Central Agricultural Research Institute (CARI), LIBA President, James M. Strother told the visiting Japanese delegates that, “We believe that it is possible for Liberians to produce food on a commercial scale in a relatively short time. We are blessed with large tracks of land that are agriculture-friendly in many parts of Liberia.”
“Today marks the beginning of a process initiated by Rapid Food Production Initiatives (RFPI) towards food security in Liberia,” Strother said. “LIBA, which is the apex body for all registered Liberian-owned and operated businesses in Liberia, is driving the process to implement the RFPI concept, a program to produce food on commercial-scale under the corporate identity of the Liberia Food Production Program (LFPP).”
According to him, the Liberian government has created the necessary legal and policy framework for Liberian citizens, in joint ventures with their international business partners, to engage in contract-farming arrangements in terms of doing business in all the pre and post-harvest activities of the value chain.
The LIBA president expressed optimism that with the success of the program, Liberia’s dependence on food imports will be eliminated and the foreign exchange status of the country will improve. Nevertheless, he said it will take commitment, hard work, and determination on our part to attract the required investment package from our foreign partners to make this work.
“I am telling all of us on this table that agriculture is the only way that we as Liberians and [as] a country can change the dynamics of economic issues that we are faced with,” he stated.
The joint briefing session was therefore intended to formally present the Rapid Food Production Initiative Concept to their foreign friends, the relevant government ministries, and agencies and the various private sector entities to stimulate interest and take action towards the next steps.
“We will share with you, among others, the number of jobs to be created by this program, the 18 interventions on the food production chain which must be made for farmers in Liberia to quickly transition from the subsistence slash-and-burn to commercial stationary farming, the Liberia Food Production Program synopsis, the specific areas of investment, the investment cost, priority food commodities, and role of the LIBA,” Strother added.
He also used the occasion to quickly remind government officials that the program is mainly intended for grass rooters and not the big ones and that nobody will use his or her power to hijack it because it is strictly for ordinary Liberians. He, therefore, called on farmers in the country to take the opportunity very seriously.
Earlier on, Zukolee G. Kongo, Liberia’s Consul in Japan, said it was indeed an honor for him to lead a two-man delegation to Liberia for possible investment opportunities in the agriculture sector.
Cllr. Kongo said the just-ended TICAD conference that President Weah’ attended was centered around the private sector, and the Government of Japan has allocated US$20 billion for the next three years for Africa to make use of.
“How much do we want from the US$20 billion?” Kongo asked, “There must be a set program that Liberia will be able to benefit from this great initiative. So, this is why we have come to engage our people to see what program they can identify through institutions.”
Cllr. Kongo told Liberians that the Japanese delegates are here to help change Liberia’s situation, particularly in food production.
“So, this is why you need to find priority areas so that we benefit from this money. Three years is just next door and if Liberia as a country cannot make use of this amount, it will be gone. Let us work together and make use of the opportunity,” he added.
At the same time, Eiji Yamamura, who is a private sector Agriculture Specialist in Japan, called on every Liberian to make use of the initiative.
He said the program is purely a Liberian initiative that the Japanese Government wants to help. “This is really a Liberian initiative and I want you all to take hold of the process,” he urged Liberians.
Commerce and Industry Minister, Prof. Wilson K. Tarpeh, said he was very pleased to welcome the delegates to Liberia.
“This day is a very good day for me and I’m pleased with the quality of people we have in this room. This program is something that we pray out of President George Weah’s recent visit to Tokyo, Japan, where he underscored the importance of agriculture, which is the way out for Liberia.
Minister Tarpeh said President Weah’s view is to make sure that subsistence efforts are put in that sector. “We don’t intend to bad mouth the past government, but we want to make sure that this time around the investment is done through the private sector,” he added.
The Commerce Minister therefore assured the Japanese delegates led by Mr. Kongo of President Weah’s support and will do everything possible to cooperate with them (Japanese investors). “But we will support efforts through the private sector and whatever is required, let us know because that is the only way out of the situation we find ourselves in.
In another development, the delegation also visited the president of the Liberia Development Bank for Investment (LBDI) to discuss how they can be a help to the process as investors and banking institutions also.