President George M. Weah calls on the Liberian Senate to speedily conduct confirmation hearing for the Minister of Agriculture-designate, Madam Jeanine Cooper to enable her takes office.
Delivering his third Annual Message to members of the Legislature sitting in joint session at the Capitol Monday, President Weah said his vetting and selecting of a new agriculture minister was comprehensive and thorough.
Madam Jeanine Cooper is the second woman appointed to that office since ex-minister Florence Chenoweth , who served the Tolbert administration up to the bloody military coup in 1980 and subsequently the second term of the Sirleaf administration.
President Weah reportedly went thru a meticulous vetting process to come up with the name of Ms Jeanine Cooper who will take charge of a very crucial sector of the economy, after senate confirmation. A farmer and rice producer herself, with wealth of experience in the private sector, public expectations are high like the President’s that she has the capability to revive the agriculture sector.
“I believe we have found the right person to lead this charge. The nominee is a woman whose track record, competence and dedication match my vision for agricultural transformation in Liberia. I hope that you will share my view, and grant her speedy confirmation so that she can urgently embark upon the great task that is before her. If she cannot do it, then I do not know who else we will find to do it”. President Weah notes.
He says that Liberia cannot realize full economic transformation without a vibrant agriculture program, noting that Agriculture is critical to the kind of development his government strives to achieve. Mr. Weah adds that it is the reason the sector remains a major pillar of the country’s development agenda.
He further notes that with the program to connect the various communities and counties through quality paved road networks now fully mobilized, funded and underway, the next big push by his administration this year will be to reorganize the agriculture sector and put it at the front burner of the national development initiatives.
“A greater investment in the sector will not only guarantee food security, but will also provide jobs and a source of livelihood for thousands of families across Liberia”, says the President.
He discloses that in coming months, the Government intends to harness both local and international support and resources to lead the new agriculture drive, which will focus on the entire value chain from the remote farmlands to the sprawling marketplaces across the country, saying that government will exert every effort to subsidize the works of more farmers and local cooperatives with the objective of enhancing productivity.
According to the President, the country has traditionally focused on rice production, and it was time to begin to work with authorities in the sector and international counterparts to look at ways of fully cultivating other cash crops, such as cocoa and coffee.
President Weah notes that neighboring countries have gained international acclaim for the production and exportation of these products; when actually, their natural endowment are not that different from Liberia’s, saying, that his government will join ongoing efforts by the European Union and others to revamp and make the coffee and cocoa sectors viable and profitable as well as assist farmers to increase their yields through new farming methods and mechanization.
President Weah laments that over the years, millions of dollars were put into agriculture with very little result to show, noting, that this new drive will tap on available knowledge and experience, while working with international partners and local farmers to lead a new program that empowers Liberians, through agribusinesses, in order to grow the economy.
However, the President says he expects the new minister to bring harmony to the various efforts in the sector for efficiency and greater productivity. He notes that the executive will seek help of the Legislature in this regard, working with the appropriate committees of both Houses.
He assures the Liberian people that government has already secured the commitment of key local and international stakeholders who are supportive of the new drive to upgrade agriculture so that the country can reap its full benefits.
President Weah is optimistic that Liberia’s comparative advantage lies in its fertile soil, vast quantity of arable land, and suitable climatic conditions. “We must therefore make the best of what we are gifted with. I therefore invite everyone, particularly the youths, to join us as we overhaul the agriculture sector.”
He says Traditional economics provides that agriculture surplus should lead to industrialization, but his government plans to leapfrog this process through a Special Economic Zone Concept.
“We are cognizant of our infrastructure challenges which pose certain hurdles, but with a well-organized Special Economic Zone program, domestic production by small and medium enterprises will get the needed boost to spur economic growth.”
The Special Economic Zone is a vehicle that will create job opportunities, increase personal incomes and add value to unprocessed raw materials for export.
Meanwhile, President Weah hails partners, noting that feasibility studies have already begun for the development of a Special Economic Zone in Buchanan, Grand Bassa County, while there are plans to test a pilot project in the Free Zone Area located within the vicinity of the National Port Authority in Monrovia. By Ethel A. Tweh–Editing by Jonathan Browne