“Back To The Soil”: A Movement To Self Sufficiency, Or Another Political Lip Service To The Liberian People?

By Nyankor Matthew

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia
July 03, 2009


On Saturday June 27, 2009, the government of Liberia in collaboration with the United Nations officially launched the “back to the soil movement”, which – if done right - may be the catalyst for radically revitalizing our dormant agriculture sector. The importance of self sufficiency in Liberia and the entire Afrikan continent can not be emphasized enough. Minister Louis Farrakhan said it best during a speech to the citizens of Ghana, when he said: “…as long as somebody else is feeding you, you will never be free. If somebody else is feeding us, if somebody else is clothing us, then we have not taken our destiny in our own hands.”

The Liberian agriculture sector is desperately in need of radical and progressive revitalization after years of neglect due to the long and brutal UNCIVIL war. In each of Liberia’s 15 counties, an average of 80 to 90 percent of the population is engaged in farming related activities. Subsistence farming is not only the main source of income for farmers, it is also the main source of income for the majority of Liberians, as an estimated 75% of Liberians are engaged in farming related activities. Increasing farmers’ income and purchasing power, and bringing them out of subsistence farming would enable the country and the people to prosper, while at the time increasing the country’s ability to earn and conserve foreign exchange.

According to the county development agenda, “…NGOs have increased their efforts to supply basic inputs to farmers to jump-start the agricultural economy, but these efforts have not reached all areas of the Counties. Poor road conditions have not been supportive to the restoration of production capacities as rural areas remain unreachable, particularly during the rainy season”. The jingles are great, and the fanfare to increase awareness and awaken our consciousness to the significance of this issue is even better, but I am still not confident that the underlying issues as to why the agriculture sector is producing so little, is being adequately addressed by the newly launched “back to the soil movement”.

A few years back a well planned and extensive county-wide consultation exercise was undertaken by Madam/President Johnson sirleaf’s administration in all fifteen counties between September and December 2007. Citizens representing the various clans, towns, districts and county government, along with Liberia’s development partners identified the pressing needs and priority action areas to achieve sustained development in these counties. Within the agriculture sector, farmers in the counties reported in large percentages that the major constraints for them are the lack seeds to plant; the lack of tools to plant the seeds; and lack of cash. The below evidence clearly shows that the lack of seeds and tools are directly correlated to limited to or no access to cash to farmers or those involved in farming related activities. If a farmer does not have cash, the farmer is unable to purchase seeds or tools; and if a farmer does not have seeds and tools, he/she is unable to be productive.

Counties - Lack of seeds - Lack of tools - Lack of cash

BOMI 63% 45% 21%

RIVERGEE 47% 55% 21%

RIVERCESS 45% 60% 47%


MONTSERRADO 53% 59% 25%

MARYLAND 21% 39% 39%

MARGIBI 61% 50% 17%

LOFA 55% 59% 47%

GRAND KRU 64% 56% 2%

GRAND GEDEH 46% 42% 35%


GRAND BASSA 21% 39% 38%


BONG 46% 40% 30%


*The percentages were pulled from the County Development Agendas*

The gap between what is needed and what is provided to farmers is still alarmingly disproportionate, as a result many of our farmers are unable to farm or even provide for themselves in other sectors. We should all, as Liberians be ashamed to utter out loud that are farmers are relying on handouts from NGOs for their survival. In addition to a lack of financial and physical resources, non existent infrastructure continues to be a major challenge to reviving the agriculture sector, but for now the focus must be on getting farmers the necessary resources to go back to the soil, so that they are at least able to feed themselves before feeding the rest of us.

I am encouraged to see that the Department of Regional Development and Extension, a program within the Ministry of agriculture, requested $100,000 for Tools and small equipment, and $265, 053 for Agricultural supplies and inputs for the 2009/2010 budget year. This is an encouraging and positive step in the right direction; however more still needs to be done. Although the “back to the soil” movement is essential to long term food sufficiency in Liberia, the process will remain a meaningless gimmick if it is not backed by a commitment to provide the financial and/or physical capital needed to boost production in the agriculture sector.


Lack of access to capital is a major factor hampering agricultural development in Liberia, as evidence by the table above. Most Liberians, especially those in the agriculture sector still have little to no access to credit. Because a large percentage of Liberian farmers and entrepreneurs have little to no access to modern banking services, many have been forced to turn to the informal sector to fill in the gap. In the formal financial sector, the average lending rate is 14.3%, while the informal sector lending rate is estimated at an interest rate of around 25%, almost twice the interest rate being offered in the formal sector.

Though commercial banks’ lending to the agriculture sector has improved since 2005, the country’s banking sector still has long ways to go in coming up with innovative and creative ways of extending credit to the agriculture sector. According to the Central Bank’s financial statistics, as of April 2008, commercial banks’ lending to the agriculture sector was only 4.1% of total lending, while commercial banks’ lending to their personnel was twice the amount at 14.9%. It is important to note that lending in the agriculture sector has being on a downward trend. Lending to the agriculture sector has declined from a high of 11.9% in May of 2006, to the current April rate of 4.1%. Limited to no access to credit represents a massive constraint to agricultural growth for the nation. If the agriculture sector is to become the backbone of the Liberian economy, more needs to be done by the banking sector in extending credit to especially farmers. Because the population does not have access to credit, there is very little possibility that the agriculture sector will increase production a whole lot more than what is currently being produced.


The government of Liberia, in conjunction with the Central Bank, needs to encourage commercial banks to come up with strategies to improve and increase lending to farmers and the agriculture sector as a whole. If the government is unable to accomplish this task, it must find some means for providing subsidies to farmers.

A more radical recommendation is to create an AGRICULTURE BANK, with rural finance as the principal operational area. The agriculture bank would provide low interest long and short term loans, business development services, basic technology training for literate farmers, financial literacy classes, and provide other services when the need arises.


Increasing access to low interest, short and long term loans will go a long way in minimizing the challenges and hardships the average farmer in Liberia endures. Once our farmers are able to feed themselves in the near feature, we can all only hope that large scale mechanized farming would be the next logical way forward to long term food sufficiency in Liberia; but in order to undertake such a progressive agriculture campaign, the government in conjunction with the private sector, specifically the banking sector, will need to become more committed in terms of financial and non financial capital investment in our agriculture sector. In spite of the constraints faced by the agriculture sector, I am optimistic that if giving the necessary tools, the Liberian agriculture sector, specifically the farming sector has the potential to become a booming industry, and possibly the bread basket for the MANO River States in the next two to three decades.

Ms. Nyankor Matthew holds Bachelor’s degree in Political Science, with a specialization in Public Administration, and a Master’s degree in Public and Environmental Affairs (MPA), with a specialization in Public/Government Finance. She can reached at Nyankorm@gmail.com

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