- 14 Sep
K E Y N O T E A D D R E S s Delivered By Honorable Joseph Nyuma Boakai, Sr. Vice President of the Republic of Liberia at the USAID/FED AGRIBUSINESS EXPO
Tuesday, September 13, 2016
Monrovia City Hall, Monrovia, Liberia
Honorable Members of the National Legislature;
The Minister of Agriculture and other Members of the Cabinet;
Madam Mayor and Municipal Authorities Present;
Representative of the USAID/FED;
Ambassador Christine Elder and Members of the Diplomatic Corps;
Members of the Press;
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen:
I am pleased to be with you here today at this Agribusiness Expo which, we are informed, is the culmination of the 5-year implementation of the “Food and Enterprise Development (FED) program, financed by USAID and supported by the Government of Liberia.
A little over two months ago, I was with you in Suakoko, Bong County. That was at the Official Opening of New Frontiers in Agriculture (CNFA)/ Liberia Agribusiness Development Activity (LADA) Bong County Office and the Launch of Co-Investment Fund (CIF). That launch was in hopes of helping to boost support for the important LADA and USAID goals of strengthening the role of the private sector in the development of agriculture in Liberia.
It is in similar hopes and with greater interest that we are here today. The theme of today’s Expo, “Building a Food Secure Future in Liberia Using the Value Chain Approach,” is so relevant.
Even more so, its focus, “Agribusiness and the Challenges to Integration among Value Chain Elements,” is in sync with the Government’s emphasis in the Liberia Agriculture Transformation Agenda (LATA). This is all geared towards repositioning the agriculture sector at the top of our Agenda for Transformation (AfT). The LATA is an innovative initiative that is strongly focused on private sector development and emphasizing several priority commodity value chains that Liberia has the comparative advantage in transforming the agriculture sector.
What brings us fulfilment is the fact that since the LATA program was launched in October 2015, as a result of the President Task Force on Agriculture and Agro-Processing, we are witnessing the following:
• There has been unprecedented collaboration among government ministries, agencies and commissions, the private sector, and donor partners paving the way to a common vision for developing agriculture as a business.
• Government’s annual budgetary allocation for the agriculture sector has jumped more a hundredfold from an average of US$3 million over the past few years (which was mostly for recurrent costs) to the proposed US$9.5 million in this 2016-2017 Fiscal Year.
• This renewed upward financial support by this Government to the agriculture sector has galvanized momentum from our development/donor partners to also commit more financial and technical support to the sector.
In spite of the severe triple shocks that Liberia has gone through during the past several years, including (i) the long civil war, (ii) the unprecedented falls in the global prices of our traditional revenue generating commodities including iron ore and rubber, and
(iii) the devastating outbreaks of the deadly Ebola Virus Disease, the Government of Liberia is showing more commitment to investing in, and transforming the agriculture sector, to ensure food security and save the over US$200 million that we spend annually to import food commodities.
From background information on this program, I am gathering that USAID/FED Program is doing remarkably well in enhancing our agriculture sector.
• FED has concentrated on four value chains during the past five years of implementation in Liberia: rice, cassava, vegetables and goats. It helped more than 90,000 farmers to increase their productivity, strengthen processing and post-harvest capacity, increase incomes, create jobs, and build human resources.
• It has worked with community colleges to establish Centers of Excellence – including establishing soil testing and analytical laboratories.
• FED has built rice and cassava processing capacity with Fabrar, Falama the Liberia Business Incubator, Selma Development Corporation, Agricultural Infrastructure Investment Corporation, and construction of 19 rice business hubs in four counties.
• It has built a technical assistance capacity through establishment and strengthening of Enterprise Service Centers operating in the counties where such services previously did not exist.
• It has established village savings and loan associations to create opportunities for rural women to establish businesses. It has created job opportunities for youth entrepreneurship through co-financing of tuk-tuks and power tillers.
• FED has also demonstrated that international buyers can be attracted to Liberia when the right focus on quality and volume is applied, as evidenced by the presence here today of Mr. Jean Louis Gruter of VS Campaigne in France. VS Campaigne has received trial shipments of vegetables from farming clusters in Montserrado and Margibi counties.
Let me say welcome, Mr. Gruter. I hope this is only the first of many visits by you to Liberia.
So what comes next? How do we expand/enhance/sustain/promote these efforts, which are only a start in the transformation of the agricultural sector?
We do acknowledge that we still have a long way to go to achieve food security and ensure equal access to economic opportunity for all Liberians. Liberia is facing strong headwinds due the collapse of the extractive industries.
The challenges include rapid urbanization; climate change that is generating more stressful growing conditions; significant unemployment in which one in three Africans from 15 to 35 years old is jobless, as well as chronic malnutrition that has left about 40% of our children stunted.
This obtaining unfavorable scenario is driving us into consideration of a combination of policy-action courses to help alleviate the situation.
The USAID/FED Agriculture Expo is emphasizing the importance of policy formulation, the regulatory environment and legal frameworks, the business enabling environment and access to finance as keys to supporting a robust agricultural sector.
Government has and will work with our partners by formulating and supporting policies that enhance local production and investment in the agriculture sector. We seek to avoid being like some countries that have tried to mandate policies without securing the input and buy-in of the private sector and other value chain actors.
The Government has and will continue to encourage private sector participation in policy formulation to ensure that everyone has a stake in agricultural enterprise development.
The Government will place more emphasis on designing innovative financing mechanisms for the agriculture sector. This will include small and medium-sized enterprise (SME), agricultural financing mechanisms such as incentive-based risk-sharing facilities for agricultural lending, and social impact bonds. It will also cover catalytic financing facilities, agriculture-relevant e-wallet, and digital financing mechanisms.
We are working closely with the African Development Bank (AfDB) and the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) to design and set up the “Liberia Incentive-Based Risk Sharing Agriculture Lending (LIRSAL)” based on on-going best practices in Nigeria and other African countries with support from AfDB and AGRA.
• Reducing post-harvest losses, strengthening value addition, establishing structured markets and marketing systems can all contribute to sustainable food security.
• Overall, the estimated rate of post-harvest losses in Liberia is approximately 35%-40%. In rice, these losses are caused by improper processing, poor storage practices and transport constraints. One way to attain food security is to reduce this rate of post-harvest loss.
• If post-harvest losses can be reduced to a more reasonable level, other aspects of value addition – processing, storage, packaging, preservation, and market linkages – are all enhanced.
Added to all this, we are also encouraging stronger frameworks for collaboration and agreed scorecard for mutual accountability to judge the results of implementation of huge investments in various programs and projects both by government and development partners and NGOs.
Both Government and development partners should be held accountable for huge sums of funds spent in the agriculture sector, as well as other
sectors, for economic growth and transformation for shared prosperity and improved livelihoods of our citizens.
I note with interest that several relevant topics, including “challenges to value chain integration,” “policy formulation,” “public-private participation,” and “access to finance,” — are under discussion.
We are impressed that this is taking place with some of the best minds that understand the Liberian agriculture sector. I am confident that the topics will be probed with the rigor and intelligence that it demands.
I encourage all of you in attendance here this morning to take full advantage of this opportunity to contribute to Liberia’s economic and social development.
Let me take the moment to again register special thanks to USAID and the American people for the continuous support to the agriculture sector in particular, and other sectors, in Liberia. Indeed, the US Government’s support to Liberia is highly appreciated by the Government and people of Liberia.
And to my Ministry of Agriculture Family, I say kudos and urge you to stay the course. The future of this country lies in Agriculture—in your hands. And that is why I see the need to remind you of the need for you to forcefully stamp your importance to our national goal of self-sufficiency in food production.
What I have said often is that whether there is a Ministry of Agriculture or not, the farmers will grow food and live. The Ministry, however, is relevant in formulating policies and providing technical support if the farmers are to produce enough to eat and sell to consumers.
What I have observed also as a serious shortcoming is the extension side of the Ministry. It needs to be more effective. Also, most of the Agriculture programs are standalone programs. The farmers need to be guided through institutions that will provide them information and the technology to purchase, process and transport their products for good returns.
Many of our farmers even now have rice that they cannot sell or process, thereby making it difficult for them to farm for the next season. Resolving this dilemma is crucial to making Liberia self-sufficient in food production. And I know you can rise to this task.
I wish you successful and productive deliberations that will yield the most impactful results for our nation and people.
Thank you and God bless us all.