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Creeping nutritional crisis

The European Union in Liberia quotes a 2016 Household Income and Expenditure Survey as reporting that 50.9 percent or 51 percent Liberians live below the poverty line and 39.1 percent experience food poverty.

According to the EU, six out of Liberia’s 15 counties still have critical levels of chronic malnutrition, and nearly 40 percent of children under age five suffers from stunting because of chronic undernourishment.

It adds that despite the country being endowed with fertile soils, smallholder farmers in Liberia continue to have low yields, which is primarily due to lack of access to seeds and tools as well as ineffective agricultural methods, causing many Liberian farmers to limit their production to a few crops and lack the knowledge and confidence to grow a greater variety of nutritious and commercially viable crops, which is largely responsible for poor nutrition, low resilience, and inter-generational poverty.

The EU observation was contained a press statement issued in Monrovia last week at the formal launch of the EU-Liberia Agriculture Programme or EULAP, otherwise known as the PARTNERS Project. Liberia’s Minister of Agriculture Dr. Mogana S. Flomo, Jr., and the European Union Ambassador to Liberia, Hélène Cavé, jointly launched the five year project, specifically targeting Grand Kru, Sinoe, Rivercess, Grand Bassa, Margibi, Bomi and Grand Cape Mount counties, areas identified as still having critical levels of chronic malnutrition.

This is very serious and should claim immediate attention of the Government of Liberia. As a government and country, we can’t speak of development and lifting people out of poverty when they face creeping starvation.

Somehow, the government seems to be placing more emphasis on infrastructural development – building roads and modern capital city, rather than tackling the fundamental problem of food. If 40 percent of our children under five are stunted because of chronic undernourishment, then life expectancy for the future generation is seriously threatened.

Government would do well by redirecting her overly publicized, but generally misconstrued Pro-Poor Agenda to the fundamental issue of food insecurity. Working in collaboration with foreign partners, the authorities should redirect the country’s unskilled jobless youthful population from public offices to the soil.

We need an agricultural revolution, not only growing our stable rice, but venturing into cash crops production alongside the capital intensive road construction. In other words, we shouldn’t wait until the roads are paved before investing in agriculture.

The EU further notes that in Liberia, large scale commercial agriculture is focussed mainly on cultivation of export commodities such as palm oil and rubber, while rest of the farming systems are small-scale, poorly resourced, and lack processing and marketing, meaning production cannot meet national demand for staple foods.

Now is the time to start if the Pro-Poor Agenda should become meaningful and impactful. Stagnant salary amid rising exchange rate and food prices have never lifted any country and its people out of generational poverty unless they are able to adequately feed themselves. A hint to the wise is sufficient.

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