“Back To The Soil”: A Movement To Self Sufficiency, Or Another Political Lip Service To The Liberian People?
By Nyankor Matthew
Counties - Lack of seeds - Lack of tools - Lack of cash
BOMI 63% 45% 21%
RIVERGEE 47% 55% 21%
RIVERCESS 45% 60% 47%
NIMBA N/A N/A N/A
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 CAPE MOUNT N/A N/A N/A
GRAND BASSA 21% 39% 38%
GBARPOLU N/A N/A N/A
BONG 46% 40% 30%
SINOE N/A N/A N/A
*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.
ACCESS TO CREDIT AND OTHER BANKING SERVICES
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