MONROVIA – The Standard Bearer of the opposition Unity Party, former Vice President Joseph Nyumah Boakai says Liberia is running on auto-pilot, and if the right decisions are made, the country could crash land because, according to him, President George Manneh Weah is completely unfit to lead the country. Providing his thoughts on critical issues besetting Liberia when he did a three-hour podcast stint recently, Mr. Boakai said all the signs are pointing to a country that is sinking. He, however, singled out agriculture as a sector that his government will focus on to revitalize the economy and bring reprieve to the impoverished and downtrodden populace.
“I look at the many quality people who are outside this country. I look in the streets and see the children; and I look at where I come from; and we see that we have here a country that is on autopilot; the country is running itself. So, when you talk about all of the things that you talked about, they are symptoms of a country that is sinking. And we believe that it is our duty to rescue this country. From all that is happening, we are optimistic that Mr. Weah cannot lead this country.
“Let me start by saying, perhaps we do not know, and we’re taking it lightly; but I’ve come to find out that we are in plane with about 500 persons, and someone comes dressed as pilot, and he sits in the cockpit, and we trust that person; but we all are doomed, and we’re taking it for joke. This is how serious it is. There is somebody who knows nothing about running the country, somebody who cares nothing about running the country, and we are taking all that we have entrusted to him. We cannot allow this to continue. It is a mistake. It has to be corrected,” Ambassador Boakai stated.
In laying out the bedrock of his administration’s agenda when he admittedly wins the elections in 2023, Ambassador Boakai has outlined agriculture as one of the main pillars of his government’s economic recovery policies, given the fact that he worked for years in the sector and knows the benefits that the sector accrued to the nation.
“Fortunately, when I left college my first assignment was with LPMC in the marketing area, and I was subsequently sent to Lofa County. In Lofa County I was responsible for managing a coffee farm and an oil palm farm. I was supervising nurseries in cocoa, coffee and oil palm for distribution to farmers. I was also buying, sharing and processing coffee to send to Monrovia for export; and also, rice.
“Sitting here, I could take the moisture of some rice and I would tell you, if you milled that rice, how many pounds would come out. Although in Monrovia they had machines, I used women with fanners; and that coffee from Lofa was ranked the number one coffee for export.
“When I left the production, management and processing area, I became the first Liberian managing director to export coffee and cocoa to the world. Although at that time we didn’t have large production, but through the skills, LPMC had a turnover of over US$50 million a year. By then we were exporting quite a number of things – cassava, palm kernel oil. So, I came from the management of agriculture, the processing, and to marketing; then I became Minister of Agriculture. There is nobody in this country that has had this kind of experience.
“I quite understand the problem with agriculture in this country. And because of that, even when I was in Voinjama, when the late President Tolbert had an occasion to go to the OAU, I was able to process over 2,000 bags of LAT23 rice at the President’s request to feed the guests.
“In Lofa County, we didn’t allow imported rice to go to Lofa. At that time, only 30% of our rice was being brought in, and mostly the US parboiled rice under the PL480 program.
“You hear Liberians say, I eat pussawa. Pussawa is not the name of any rice. Pussawa is a kpelle word meaning “30”. A man in Firestone would say, whether you give me your food or not, I have my “30”, pussawa.
“And I can tell you, with all of the low land that we have here, with proper management of those lowlands, working with the farmers, we are able to produce substantial rice in this country.
“We will charge a levy on imported rice, and that levy goes in an escrow to subsidize farmers. In this way, we will be able to produce rice in a reasonable quantity.
“For example, when Florence Chenoweth was Minister, we said we don’t have to bring cattle. You don’t have to depend on imports for everything. Agriculture is local. If you make a mistake and bring in foreign products, it could affect productivity. If for example you are having a fish pond, and some of the fish from the pond go into the rivers, the foreign species could destroy all of your fishes by eating them up.
“Agriculture is local. If we were to put up cattle ranches and raise cattle, we could have enough meat in this country. We could develop a lot of fish ponds here to feed our people. I always tell people that you don’t have to be an agriculturist to produce. All of those young people that don’t have jobs, all we need to do is to train. What you need is agriculture agents.
“For instance, Miatta has 100 acres of land. What you need is access to land. Miatta wants to plant cocoa. Get technicians to test the soil, and they say this soil is good for cocoa. Miatta gets another technician to do her cocoa nursery and the layout of the plantain. Miatta is in business. We need to engage a lot of young people who are moving around to be agriculture agents.
For example, if you are growing pigs and your pigs are dying, and you don’t know anything about pigs, but you will need to do something. You need a hotline. Call the Ministry of Agriculture to get you in contact with a vet. What we need are agriculture agents, people who are competent and can advise.
“We have a research institute at CARI that is autonomous; that means other people can come from other countries and contribute.
“We set up cooperatives in Liberia. Most of the food that you see in the States in supermarkets are from cooperatives. That means a group of people who produce the same things have come together. We can do that. The women here are willing and ready.
“As Minister of Agriculture, I made sure there was no importation of frozen chicken. Those military guys used to hunt me because they didn’t know what we were doing. They thought the best thing was get the Lebanese guys to bring in frozen chicken. I said no. Because we had the Bright Farm, we had the Sanghai Farm, we had the Baker Farm, and individual farms. If you went to Diana Restaurant then, you could order homegrown chicken. All of these are possible, but you must have the right people in place; you have to know what you’re doing; you must have the interest of the country. Not people who come and want for you to import and get a cut of the profit. We can take care of ourselves in a very reasonable manner.
“We have the land. Why can’t we declare 3 million hectares of land for agriculture? It’s good for our country. They should make the law. The land is available anywhere. Agriculture production should be based on comparative advantage. If the people in the Southeast are fishermen, let them produce fish. Everybody doesn’t have to produce the same thing.
“We have to think about cash crops for export and what we consume. And what we need is to preserve those produce, to process and add value. In no time, Liberia will see itself food-sufficient,” Ambassador Boakai stated emphatically, but noted that one of the main impediments of the Weah administration in tackling the food insecurity situation was complete incompetence.
“This government came to power on a partisan basis. At every institution they put their partisans, whether they know what they are doing or not, they don’t care. You can’t run a country like that,” Mr. Boakai lamented.