Syrulwa Somah, PhD
Executive Director, Liberian History, Education & Development, Inc (LIHEDE)
& Associate Professor, NC Agricultural & Technical State University
Greensboro , NC 27411
At The All Liberian National Conference - Kahler Hall, 5440 Old Tucker Row, Columbia, Maryland 21044
Fellow Liberians and friends of Liberia. I want to thank each and every one of us for gathering in these halls to discuss the future of Liberia, with respect to what contributions we can make to the development of Liberia. I have been asked by the organizers of this conference to make a presentation on the Agricultural and Environmental Reforms in post-conflict Liberia. I think the topic is timely, and the subject is a major concern in the future development of Liberia. However, because this conference is about finding working solutions to the mountains of problems and challenges awaiting the new national leaders of Liberia after the October 2005 elections, I will restrict my remarks to a series of recommendations instead of giving you indebt analyses of the state of agricultural development and environmental protection in Liberia. I should warn you that agriculture and environment are tied to transportation, sanitation, tourism, culture, and a wide range of social and economic factors. In this light, some of my recommendations will cover areas beyond agriculture and environment, but only insofar as is necessary to show clear networking of various social and economic sectors of society at large.
I believe p romoting agricultural production and reforming our environment is a must in the New Liberia, in order to maximize the nation’s resources for the benefit of all Liberians. I believe with only a little over three million people, Liberia might not need 10 years to achieve food self-sufficiency, if the new national leaders of Liberia would only make agricultural production a national priority and rally the Liberian people to the cause. I believe that one of the most effective ways to reduce hunger and reduce future civil disturbances in Liberia is to improve agricultural productivity with what we have and not what we hope we should have. I believe no one can help rebuild Liberia but Liberians, so a national agricultural production program that pulls together the human and economic resources of the Liberian people might not only lead to increased food production and reductions in the rates of poverty and unemployment, but might also attract international goodwill in the forms of the donation of modern farming tools and implements.
Because food security is important for the national growth and development of any country, the fourth Liberian republic must commit to a lo ng-term agricultural development program duly sanctioned through legislative enactment, and supported by the executive branch of government. In other words, a national policy geared toward food self-sufficiency through a return to the soil would be the first step to eliminating Liberia’s current dependence on foreign food imports for daily consumption by the Liberian people.
I have divided my paper into two parts for your convenience. Part I will deal with agricultural reforms, and Part II will deal with environmental reforms.
PART I: Agricultural Reforms
How to Feed Ourselves in Liberia
About half of the Liberia's land is suitable for the cultivation of tree and food crops. It is estimated that two million acres can be devoted to food crops, while another five million acres on rolling or hilly terrains are suitable for tree crops. With such suitable land, food shortages should not occur in Liberia, or if there is a food shortage in Liberia, it should not be widespread. Over 90% of our national economy is completely or entirely agrarian. Harvests constantly fail and our people usually lose their crops, with nothing left in their hand for very obvious reasons. Our people are unable to buy food from the market even if the food were available, due to lack of farm-to-market road and a robust national transportation system. As a result, some of our people have food crops they can’t get to the market, while some of our people are going hungry day in and day out due to the absence of sufficient food in the open markets. And this is not joke. If you ever went to the countryside there are huge amounts of cassava, eddoes, pineapples, plantains, sweet potatoes, oranges, pawpaw, plums, grapefruits, butter pearls, etc that cannot be moved to the urban areas or other parts of the nation where majority of Liberians would need them the most. I believe since the basic is there already, what is needed for improved food production in Liberia is effective agricultural policy and improved service delivery system. In other words, the government could partner with private Liberians to set up national farming plantations and factories that will grow and produce rice, eddoes, potatoes, plantains, oranges, grapefruits, papaws, guavas, bananas, pineapples and other food crops for local consumption and export.
Liberians should consider other food staples in addition to rice. There are other protein enriched foods stuffs that equal or surpass rice. I believe the Liberian government could establish National Farms in the 15 political sub-divisions of Liberia, that effort will go a long way toward food self-sufficiency in Liberia. I would therefore suggest that the national farms be concentrated on producing for local consumption and export, the following food crops, among other food or cash crops.
The whole process should begin by establishing the national farm based on what each county soil can produce. Suggested names are:
- Bomi National Farm
- Bong National Farm
- Gbarpolu National Farm
- Grand Bassa National Farm
- Grand Cape Mount National Farm
- Grand Gedeh National Farm
- Grand Kru National Farm
- Lofa National Farm
- Margibi National Farm
- Maryland National Farm
- Montsorrado National Farm
- Nimba National Farm
- River Cess National Farm
- River Gee National Farm
- Sinoe National Farm
Of course, once the soil in each of the 15 counties has been tested for the kind of food crops and cash crops suited to the soil type in each county, then we can set about the national goal of food self-sufficiency by planting rice, cassava, eddoes, potatoes, and cocoa, or any variety of food and cash crops. In addition to the national farms, sub-national farms should be established under the national farm concept, devoted to the production of fruits, oil, and other liquid or cash crop products. At least one hundred acres of land should be identified for fruit or vegetable plantation in each county. These sub-farms may include but not limited to:
- Sub-National Juice Plantation Farm
Liberia has some of the sweet oranges, grapefruits, pineapples, papaws, guavas, sour-saws, cocoa nut, wild-cherry, etc. This plan intends to begin producing Liberian own juices and soft drinks for local consumption and export.
2) Sub-National Palm Re-forestation/Oil Production
Now is the time to take the production and consumption of palm oil to a higher level. Palm oil is enriched with vitamin A, and provides a convenient cure for blindness and growth retardation, which inflict many African children. A proper harvesting of palm oil in Liberia, and the application of appropriate technology in its production can serve the economic and health of Liberia very well. We have the soil, we only need to take action now.
3) Sub-National Cocoa Farm/Oil Production
The use of cocoa oil for cooking is not new. However, other usages of cocoa oil include organic skin care, cosmetics, and aromatherapy. As Dr. Bruce Fife, a naturopathic doctor and the author of The Healing Miracles of Coconut Oil puts it, "Coconut oil is the healthiest oil on earth." Also coconut oil is now being recognized by the medical community worldwide as a powerful tool against immune diseases because of its lauric acid to build the immune system. The production and cultivation of cocoa plants in Liberia could make Liberia one of the major suppliers of cocoa oil to the international markets.
4) Sub-National Gbein Farm/ Oil Production
The Gbein plant of Liberia is also a key source of oil. The Gbein plant is a tong tree that produces several black seeds. The black seeds of the tree are enriched with olive-like oil, and used as eating oil. During the civil wars in Liberia, the people of Worn Town, Margibi County, relied mainly on Gbein oil as a major source of eating oil. The effort would be duplicated at a national level with mass production of the Gbein plant.
5) Sub-National Peanut Farm/ Oil Production
Peanuts are said to grow well in Liberia but Liberia is not among the major peanut growing countries of the world, which include Senegal, Sudan, Brazil, Argentina, South Africa, Malawi, and Nigeria. But under a national farm system, Liberia could begin to grow and export peanuts by shipping raw peanuts, both shelled and unshelled peanuts, to major buyers in U S, Europe, Canada and Japan, and other places. Liberian peanuts could also be used in the making of candies (whole, chopped or as butter), with such treats as chocolate, nougat, marshmallow, caramel, along with other nuts and dried fruits.
Ladies and gentlemen, the proposed national farms system in Liberia could be a key source of employment for Liberians, and reduce the current dependency on the Liberian government as the only, or the single largest, source of employment. Besides, the 100,000-plus former combatants (IRIN) from Liberia’s 14-year civil war, and other unemployed Liberians could be trained as farmers and sent to specialty farms in each political subdivision as a way to prevent loitering, begging, and street crimes by former combatants and other unemployed persons.
In addition, a “National Veteran Farms” could be established along the national farms to cater specifically to former members of the Armed Forces of Liberia and combatants from the Liberian civil wars. In other words, since there has never been a Veteran Association of the AFL that would help harness their skills for national development initiatives besides military life, the veteran farm could be good starting point. Our military and other law enforcement veterans could retire and engage in agricultural productions means of enriching their lives. Food produced at the veteran farm can be purchased as incentive to military personnel, while the income generated from the sales of food products from the veteran farm could be used to sustain our veterans, without extra costs to Liberian taxpayers.
Rationale for the national farm project
The purpose of the national farms is not to force people to settle in them. However, it is possible for schools (elementary to high schools), clinics, market grounds, airstrips, cinema, administrative buildings, assembly halls, police station, recreation parks, and so forth, to be established in each county, near each national farm to make life easier for the farm workers. This added incentive is a more compelling reason why the national farm project would boost socio-economic development in Liberia if established.
Such a “national farms” will help returning refugees who do not have ancestral land or have lost everything to the war, to resettle and create for themselves a sense of community bonding. It will also help conscientize them to unify their efforts in contributing to food production and other national development goals of Liberia.
The national farms will compel the Liberian government to establish government subsidized technology factories at central locations in each county to help with food processing and storage. The government and people of each county will also be inclined to build appropriate road networks to handle transportation of food back-and-forth with ease.
In addition to the government-subsidized technology factories, a “National Farm Produce Irradiation Center” is recommended. Research on food irradiation is classified as promising paradigm capable of eliminating disease-causing germs from foods. Food irradiation works on the same principle of the pasteurization of milk, and pressure cooking of canned foods. In other words, treating food with ionizing radiation can kill bacteria and parasites that would otherwise cause foodborne disease. For the most part, irradiated food showed the following characteristics:
- disease-causing germs are abated or reduced
- the food does not become radioactive
- dangerous substances do not appear in the foods
- the nutritional value of the food is essentially unchanged
As you might know, low food production discourages farmers even in the wettest or richest of environments. If Liberian farmers plant crops and are not able to prolong the food life and farmers’ hard labor goes to waste, there will be shortages of food because no one wants to mass-produce what people cannot buy because it spoils due to short-life. One of the things noticed during our visits to Liberian markets, especially to “Garborchop” or Paynesville Red Light Market, is that there are tons of tons of vegetables and food such as eddoes, cucumbers, sweet potatoes, bananas, plantains, yams, corns, potatoes greens, get rotten or sun-baked and the farmer realizes very little. I am of the opinion that Liberia has abundances of food but the technology to prolong the food life and movement are the primary reasons for hunger in Liberia. If ineffective and inefficient prolonging of food life are to blame, then the solution is to build an effective and efficient technology to maintain food life in a prolonged state in order to alleviate food shortages. A government buy-back program wherein farmers are duly compensated for food crops, instead of relying solely on the open.
The Liberian government needs to institute direct buy or “special” payment program to farmers for their produce, as a way of encouraging Liberian farmers to product more crops. The government and the international communities such as African development Banks, the World Bank and other lending institution should work together to provide direct subsidy to Liberian farmers in the form of low interest loan programs to encourage the production of farm products.
However, there will always be shortages of food in Liberia in the absence of effective and efficient motor road and rail networks for easy food movements. The solution is for the Liberian government to build an effective and efficient “national farms,” we must begin the first step by building a solid future for Liberian agricultural and other products. To this end, a six year plan to re-vamp all the old mining -rail system of all the iron ore mining companies to link the 15 political subdivisions of Liberia should be initiated. Such a re-development of rail-system in the 4 th republic would provide for local rail and passenger service across the breadth of Liberia. The vision here is that a fast, affordable, and reliable transportation is paramount to moving agricultural commodities like fruit and vegetables to major locations for sales. In addition, all the major rivers of Liberia basin should be developed to add to the rapid movement of passengers and agricultural produces across Liberia.
Of course, one of the methods to sustain the rail system is to have an Integrated Management (prepaid and deposited system) with effective and efficient record-keeping, thereby reducing corruption. In other word, money collected from the passengers and other consumers of the services must be directly deposited into collection system and not into individual hand. Mining companies and concessions in Liberia should donate 25% of their profit for the project.
National Cold Water Fishery
In another key area for food sufficiency in Liberia is fishery. Liberia has many rivers, and big ones too! A national Cold Water Fishery should be constructed along the following rivers, to promote the sustainable use and conservation of marine resources:
- St Paul River
- St. John River
- Mano River
- Cavaller River
The new Liberian republic must make maximum use of its river resources by coming up with fishing technologies that are unique to tropical rivers, while environmentally friendly.
Summaries of Agricultural Reforms and Others Suggestions
Because the key to food self-sufficiency in Liberia required a strong and committed political leadership, the following administrative actions must be heeded to as a matter of urgency in any national drive towards food or agricultural production in Liberia:
- Establishment of 4th Republic National Farms for cassava, plantain, eddoes, potatoes, pineapples, grapefruits, oranges, guavas, pawpaws, plums, bananas
- Government to purchase the food from the farmers as a means of encouragement
- Technology to prolong the lives of harvested crops and produce
- Creating and supporting science and technology at the national universities and colleges to improve the welfare of all people through agricultures
- Research program at the nation’s higher institutions of learning to enhance the management of our nation’s rich biological heritage
- Government to develop and contract an environmental friendly technology to increase cold water fish and crabs population
Our nation has the soil and natural habitats for ample agricultural activities leading to a reasonable, safe and plentiful food supplies, clothing and shelter, poultries, plants, and animals, and natural resources for recreation, companionship and aesthetic value. If we resolve to self sufficiency, Liberia will be the bread basket of Africa again.
PART II Environmental Reforms
Ensuring the future environmental and ecological health of the Liberia must be of primary concern to the new leadership of Liberia after the October elections, and the Liberian people in general. Deforestation can cause w ind blowing and sunlight burning through the forest which can have a dominant effect on the environment, as they hasten rapid moisture evaporation. A national enforceable referendum which no administration can undo need to be drafted and the forests that had been previously sold be retrieved. First we must reverse the political conditions that have immensely weakened the little environmental laws on record. Sustainable use of our national resources management or sustainability lies within the frameworks of transparent policy, training, and research.
Creation of Liberian Tourism and National Parks Office
Things can go wrong but the Liberian people are collectively responsible for whatever goes wrong in Liberia, so we must overcome our shortcomings together. While reserving forest through the use of national parks has not proven successful, Liberia must develop its national parks with onsite 24/7 armed and trained rangers to save the forest. Liberia can follow the example of Costa Rica's in preserving its foreign resources. Costa Rica is earning millions of dollars by preserving her forest in exchange for rights to “chemical prospect" for plants that may have pharmaceutical value. There is a need to regulate concessions in Liberia, so as to preserve the Liberian forests for similar pharmaceutical reasons. Liberia must contract major universities around the world to investigate its forest resources for pharmaceutical use. Liberia could earn more than a million plus profits from any medicines produced. And the possibility exists because there are many botanists fighting to save the rain forests who would be interested in such a proposal supported by the Liberian government.
Liberia Tropical Education Centre
In addition, a “Liberia River Forest Reserve” would truly be an asset to Liberia’s natural resources and Liberia is in every sense a living museum. Liberia forest contains frogs never known to science and new plant species. The reserve could attract local and international scientists, and the people of Liberia would be on the way to more economically-sound forest development activities. Liberia is also a paradise for bird watching, and adventure.
The world savviest travelers are looking or seeking for exotic thrills. Liberia has all of these thrilling environments which it can use to boost its local economy, keep the proposed environmental curriculum alive and bring in new people into the nation. But the two primary reasons for the depletion of the bio-diversity and animal population in Liberia are hunting and deforestation. Therefore, there is a need for an enforceable regulatory law under a well defined national environmental regulation to not only protect Liberia substantially diminishing elephant herds (900 species), lions, Nile hippopotamus, mambas, cobras, vipers, python, baboons, chimpanzees, lemur, mongeese, dunker and leopard populations where tourists can come and see these animals. For example, presently the tourism industry in Zimbabwe is worth $7 million. When properly managed with little environmental impact our nation can benefit.
National Lakes Tourism
Liberia should redefine tourism by encouraging water sports at a lake Piso---a national treasure, and other lakes in Liberia. A national referendum must be developed to designate Lake Piso and other lakes in Liberia “not for sale or mining.” Our natural beauty must be used to bring in more money through water ski, kayak and white-water rafting. To this end, Liberia should have a developer with environmental friendly records for resorts, hotels restaurants, banquets, receptions, dinner cruises, biking and hiking paths, by-ways and a host of attractions celebrating can be developed as opposed to selling the area for mineral extraction, which has a short term benefits. In addition, Du River near Atlantic Ocean should be developed for as vacation resort. The areas overlooking the Atlantic Ocean should be developed for vacation program including the widest and best selection of lodging, fine dining, entertainment ranges from outdoor sing-a-longs to dancing the night away.
Others Means Forward
The 4 th republic must be a dawning of a new day for Integrated National Environment Management for Liberia that must be legislatively enacted and constitutionally approved by the government. The following administrative actions must be heeded to as a matter of urgency:
- BSc. in Environmental Education at all the major institutions of learning in Liberia
- Research program at the nation higher institutions of learning to enhance the management of our nation’s rich biological heritage
- Establish Memoranda of Understanding (MOUs) through structured consultations and negotiations, to ensure that no deforestation without proactive and verifiable measures are adhered to
- Investigate a remediation fund for re-forestation using unemployed ex-combatants
- Review this Integrated National Environment Management policy on an on-going basis
- Legal framework or using the Constitution or Supreme Court whichever one have teeth to clearly delineate irrevocable, monitor able and enforceable environmental protection act or “do nots” list for the nation
- Developed prerequisite human resource such a “park rangers”, housing, vehicles, education, training which will be enforced and monitored
- Establishment of a Wetland College/Institute or program and ask donor nations to train 25 train-the trainer or instructors
Using Monrovia’s Garbage Disposals As a Revenue Source
There is a need for an effective and efficient recycling and garbage collection system in Monrovia. The City should be divided into several quadrants or “drop-off centers” or garbage disposal stations for people to deposit their recyclables. In addition, Roll -off Containers should be deployed in strategic locations in the city for the collection of garbage, refuse trash and litter. A well-trained staff should be maintained and supplied with the right equipment at all times to management the urban waste program.
Liberia must have the political will to invite and sign contracts with international companies to use our garbage and produce national gas of local consumption. If we can encourage people from around the world to come to invest in this project it will be good for the nation’s economy. Nevertheless, the following prerequisites must be met to ensure successful implementation of the program:
- Research the Fiamah and Gardnerville Landfills or establish three major landfills that would have sufficient garbage volume and depth to enable the landfill gas recovery development meaningful
- Proper garbage disposal and dumping grounds management
- Formation of quadrants or community committees for solid waste disposal management through city ordinance
- Contact and provide incentive (taxes, duties and import restrictions should also be considered) for international companies and developers, in conjunction with the Liberian Electricity Corporation, the Ministry of Public Works that collect the waste, to sell the gas to a utility or private firm or to generate electricity under long-term rates that allow for a recovery of the capital investment, operating expenses, and profit margin
- Launch a recycling equipment importation tax credit program
- Begin developing local market for natural gas at an affordable prices that will satisfy both the investors and the Liberian consumers
- Conduct Pilot Programs: implement new program in stages throughout the 15 political subdivisions
Our nation is already sitting on “goldmine,” in the sense that old landfills in Gardnerville, Faimah, and other places are ripe for “harvesting.” Converting these fermentable organics in the waste to landfill gas and coal mining to increase the supply of natural gas is becoming global alternative to cheaper fuel. So with the right political will Liberia must establish sanitary landfills or develop several major landfill gas operations throughout the country.
National Program: Environmental Media Services (NPEMS)
A national radio program dedicated to expanding media coverage of critical environmental and public health issues must be established to create environmental awareness in Liberia. Equally important is the creation of environmental education television project for Liberia (EETPL). Such a broadcast television and other audio-visual resources would also raise environmental awareness and civil society effort to participate in conservation by showing films throughout Liberia. The centre will also be used for environmental education and communications of Liberia Environmental Protection Agency (LEPG). We all need to join in and help because this generation of Liberians will be blamed the most by the God of Liberia is Liberia dies on our clock. Thanks for listening.