ONTARIO, Canada – Nearly a billion people around the world suffer from hunger and food insecurity every day, and half of that are people in sub-Sahara African countries including Liberia.
A 2015 emergency food security assessment https://www1.wfp.org/countries/liberia conducted in Liberia by the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) found that food insecurity affects 16 percent of households in the country, including 2 percent that are severely food insecure. For one fourth of Liberian families, food accounts for more than 65 percent of their total expenditures. Besides, Liberia faces unimaginable unemployment problems and the country has been unable to utilize agriculture as a major driver for job and wealth creation.
The Liberian Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry is currently in flux. Since the new Liberian administration of President George Weah took over almost two years ago, the agency has been functionally inactive. Its recently dismissed leadership, including the Minister, has not put in place any serious or workable strategy.
Globe Afrique reached out to several Liberian professionals in the diaspora, both in Europe and the United States, to provide context regarding Liberia’s agriculture setback, and what steps are required to make Liberia food secure, and boost agricultural productivity.
According to the Borgen Project, https://borgenproject.org/10-facts-about-hunger-in-liberia/, high levels of poverty in Liberia has often led to hunger. Around 16 percent of households in Liberia are food-insecure and two percent are severely food-insecure.
One of the people who spoke with Globe Afrique was Solomon Chukuma Hedds-Williams, a Russian trained agronomist with an extensive experience and over 20 years of hands-on practice working in the field of agriculture and horticultural science internationally.
Hedds-Williams said Liberia needs to prioritize agriculture and the focus should be on agricultural expansion, diversification and decentralization. Adding, ‘prioritizing agriculture in Liberia can and will make Liberia food secure in addition to creating jobs and wealth for local communities.”
Hedds-Williams who studied at the University of Liberia and also received a graduate degree in agronomy from the prestigious Lumuber University in Moscow, Russia, with specialization in soil and crop science is proposing that Liberia be divided into four agricultural zones, with each zone having an agricultural officer and staff that would implement agricultural policies and programs the assigned zone without waiting for central management in the capital Monrovia for instructions.
When asked why Liberia did not move fast in strengthening its agricultural sector, Hedds-Williams, the former Deputy Minister of Agriculture for technical Services at the Liberian Ministry of Agriculture during the administration of Madam Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf prior to joining the private sector back in the United States, said to transform any sector depends on who heads the agency responsible for such sector.
“No amount of commitment and experience can transform or change a sector without the right leadership and vision from the top of the agency,” he said.
He said in the context of Liberia as is in most, if not all African nations, the head of the agency sets the agenda and the priorities for the rest of the team to follow. A minister of agriculture in Liberia should set the country’s agenda for food security and agricultural productivity.
He said the vision of any one who leads the Ministry of Agriculture in Liberia should be able to diversify, decentralize and commercialize the Liberian agriculture sector into an industrial operating sector, where there will be manufacturers in the country that will add value to the local produce for the global market.
He said decentralization will enhance farmers’ capacity to participate in extension activities and will also strengthen the capacity of the district-level integrated agricultural and forestry extension system, which will promote economically feasible, environmentally sustainable, and socially acceptable farming practices and increased farmers’ income.
He said the Ministry of Agriculture in Liberia needs to do three things: the first is to revitalize farmer groups and the organization of farmer networks; build capacity of farmers to participate in and to lead extension activities; and promotes participatory extension methods and provides media and technology support.
The second component is to extend the introduction of institutional and management reforms at the district level; build the capacity of extension staff in the participating districts; and strengthen the extension support and delivery systems in participating districts.
The third component is to improve the extension policy, conduct special studies, strengthen central extension support systems including providing urgent non-degree workforce development training to young people interested in agriculture, and providing technical assistance and project management support to commercial farmers.
Hedds-Williams, currently a CEO and owner of a successful horticultural company based in Virginia, USA, has worked with several agriculture and horticulture companies in the United States, from Chemlawn Corporation as a soil specialist to some of the largest US agriculture and horticulture companies including Trugreen Corporation and Landcare Corporation where he held several technical field and managerial positions.
He said one of the things that needs to be done to yield productivity is for government agencies in Africa to utilize external expertise in consulting roles, especially those of their nationals.
Adding, “as someone who has worked in government and the private sector dealing with all aspects of agriculture technology, a hybrid mix of public and private collaboration is the solution to dealing effectively with food security and agricultural productivity in any country.”
As a founding member of the governing Congress for Democratic Change (CDC) political party in Liberia, Hedds-Williams said he will continue to encourage his party, its leadership and President Weah to focus on agriculture and food security for the Liberian people.
Adding, “I believe with agriculture and road construction, Liberia will succeed.”