Liberia: Boosting Food Security in the Midst of Ebola
By Francis W. Nyepon
Liberia’s Agricultural Sector is in an appallingly worrying state due to the lack of vision, mismanagement, careless investment priority and deficient capacity. Over 3.5 million Liberians or 8 in every 10 persons lack adequate food for a healthy and active life. Liberia is one of the least food-secure countries in the world, with a ranking of 182 out of 187 according to the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO). Our agricultural growth is stalled because we depend too heavily on subsidized imports to feed our people. For instance, over 70% of our food including 93% of our rice is imported. We cannot grow sufficient food to feed ourselves because those who manage the sector lack the require vision to transform it; while others seem too scared to take decisive action because of job security and preoccupation with politics. As a result, bold, daring and courageous policy initiatives needed to transform the sector are caught up in politics and self-interest.
In addition, farmers are not encouraged to either contribute to improving the sector or reorganizing it to guarantee that productivity increases. Instead, the overwhelming majority of farmers are left to fend for themselves. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), between 82 to 92 percent of Liberian farmers live in extreme poverty without any possibility of upward social mobility in the next 50 years if things continue as they are. Likewise, ensuring transformative success in Liberian agriculture would require that farmers be given an opportunity to actively engage policymakers or challenge policies that are disadvantageous to them or to the country becoming self-sufficient in food production.
When these factors are paired with the effects of Ebola, many Liberians are driven unnecessarily into hunger and unbearable poverty as a result. Additionally, combined these factors with bad roads, dismal transportation system, higher food prices, decline in farming activities and restrictions in cross-border agriculture trade along with limitations in inter-country food supply routes; then, one can envision the severity of the distress, which plagues Liberia’s productive agricultural sector and causes it to be stalled. Ebola has made growing, trading, purchasing and obtaining food extremely difficult for millions of Liberians. It has caused poor crop yields on the one hand. On the other hand, it has caused tremendous dependency on donors to supply the country with food. Moreover, the situation has been exacerbated and made more complex by the extreme poverty that exists in the country.
Existing Socioeconomic vulnerabilities require a new vision. An analysis by the WFP concludes that over three and one half million Liberians are currently having difficulty getting food because of Ebola and socioeconomic vulnerabilities. And, the situation could get worse if bold new food policies aren’t immediately introduced to effectively deal with the situation. This author’s visit to the heartland observed the planting season without regular agricultural activities taking place or being performed in a meaningful way to yield results. Indisputably, in 2015, there will be substantial shortage and higher prices for food due to disruptions in the agricultural sector that has been compounded by Ebola.
The Ebola crisis can certainly be used to ‘grow’ Liberia’s productive agricultural sector in order to enhance productivity and assemble the skill sets needed to guarantee recovery and reform the sector in a more holistic manner. Recent visits by this author to five counties, two of which were the country’s breadbasket, reveal some shocking indicators that do not help in supporting and promoting food security. During these visits, the author observed severe disruption in the sector with vital farming activities severely reduced. For instance, families that comprise the majority of small-scale farmers were staying away from their farms due to Ebola. Similarly, cross-border agriculture trade and inter-country food supply routes with Guinea, Sierra Leone and the Ivory Coast were disrupted. Likewise, transportation was a major stumbling block in transferring food to market. Equally, the roads that connected farms to markets were cordoned off; while, crucial passageways that link major commercial centers of trade to the people, were appalling and atrocious. The author also discovered entire sections of the border in Bong, Nimba, River Gee, Grand Gedeh, and Maryland severely barricaded, limiting or completely being brought to a standstill cruelly suffocating critical social and economic links.
The impact of Ebola on critical sectors of the economy, like agriculture and food security can be remedied by homegrown strategic policy alternatives. Agriculture, for all of its man-made shortcomings in Liberia, can inevitably provide that comparative advantage for sustainable development in terms of food security, nutrition and health. Therefore, Liberia has this unique opportunity to better harmonize and target food security as a prudent area for obtaining real sustainable economic growth. However, policies should be promulgated along with the appropriate vision to better manage our resources in order to better lay-out an engaging roadmap with direct implication for social expansion.
Restructuring the agricultural sector in the midst of Ebola could boost food security in Liberia. The Ebola crisis presents a strategic opportunity for Liberia to obtain greater food security. The development and modernization of our agricultural sector can be the catalyst and platform from which a successful roadmap can be laid, and huge accomplishment in food security achieved within 3-5 years. In order to accomplish this goal, however, the following should be considered:
In addition, Liberia’s agricultural growth needs to be fuelled by expanding cultivated areas in every county to enhance better capacity to augment productivity. In addition, bold new investment priorities, farm-to-market road networks should be prioritized, along with building transportation hubs and transport services to better facilitate the efficient movement of foods across the country. Furthermore, bold new policy initiatives should guarantee low interest loans and credit facilities for small-scale farmers to purchase fertilizers and seeds, as well as, build irrigation and water management systems. These are some of the superficial barriers, which consistently deny Liberian farmers access to credit in order to increase productive capacity.
These are the solutions and answers, which this author finds are practical in addressing food insecurity in Liberia in the midst of Ebola. Boosting food security in Liberia at this time is critically important. Our agricultural sector needs vision, leadership and bold new decision to move the sector forward in a holistic manner, not recycled politicians and cronies who continue to run Liberia’s agriculture sector amok. Social, economic and political disruptions cannot continue to plague our country as they have done in the past. Our leaders must now seize this opportunity to make Liberia better by improving living standards, providing basic services, and definitely insuring food security through adequate food production for a healthy and active life for all Liberians. Liberia’s economy is predominantly agrarian, yet our policymakers do not seem to truly comprehend the magnitude of its impact on our society. Liberians can do better. Liberians must do better. The failure to boost food security is too grave to comprehend. If our leaders do not rise to the occasion; then, the majority of Liberians will continue to remain hopelessly disadvantaged, adversely deprived and linger in abject poverty for generations.
For eight years, our annual budget was over half a ‘Billion’ United States Dollars. Yet, investment in our agriculture sector has been under ten percent of the annual budget. As a consequence, there have been minimal improvements in the sector rebuffing true transformation from take place. Also, investing, monitoring and evaluation of the sector were extremely weak during this past eight years. This is because our government does not prioritized food security as an important component of growth; therefore, our high economic growth rate over the past eight years did not yield tangible results for average Liberians, except for those well-connected at the top. Living standards especially for farmers have substantially dwindled to almost nothing. So, how can farmers grow more food when they are severely challenged?
Francis W. Nyepon: Author, Policy Analyst, Environmentalist & Entrepreneur
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