MONROVIA, Liberia — Agriculture enthusiasts can leap for joy because the USAID is apparently also a fan. On March 15, the USAID FED, a program for Liberia that partners with the Ministry of Education, launched the new National Diploma in Agriculture.
This new honor will be awarded to graduates of a skills-focused, two-year program that trains high school graduates who want to go into agricultural employment. It involves teaching the students in demand, highly marketable skills that provide flexibility and mobility within Liberia’s growing agricultural market and industries.
Indeed, the new program could not come at a better time. Warring groups have degraded Liberia’s forests by poaching its timber. As a result, locals have resorted to slash-and-burn agriculture, which has only incurred worse damage over the years. Additionally, about 99 percent of Liberians use wood to fuel their cooking and heating, leading to deforestation.
Liberians still have to contend with several barriers to economic growth. Chief among these impediments are high transportation costs and a lack of adequate infrastructures. After all, disorganization alone can make brilliant ideas and strategies fall through the proverbial cracks.
However, Liberia has made some significant gains in its agriculture sects in recent years. Though the financial crisis of 2008 slowed the country’s GDP growth to 4.6 percent the following year, Liberia’s rubber and timber exports grew to 5.1 percent in 2010. These improvements alone were enough to make the Liberian economy one of the 20 fastest growing on a global scale.
Now, with the inception of this diploma, Liberia is using education to help its people bridge the gap between their homeland and the developed nations. With enough academic development, the new agriculture program may someday rival those established at American, Canadian, and New Zealander institutions among many others.
In her 2011 Annual Message, Liberian president Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf admitted that the nation had a long road to economic improvement and repair. She said, “We have an opportunity to look back not only at the last year, but also the last five years and remember where we have come from. And we have an opportunity to look forward, into the future to where we are going and the challenges we face.”
Currently, the West African country is recovering from two decades of civil war that decimated nearly 10 percent of its population and razed its economy to less than half the size it once was. Johnson-Sirleaf was the first African female to be elected through free and fair elections in 2005.
In this vein, Liberia retraced the footsteps of Rwanda: another African nation that elected a majority of female politicians following the Rwandan Genocide of 1994. Women are often elected as leaders after major crises befall the tenures of their male predecessors. The trade-off is that the public eye analyzes their leadership abilities with much greater scrutiny than those of the men that came before them.
Johnson-Sirleaf reassured her people that “we will not let this sad situation threaten our peace. We will work with regional and international partners to find a resolution.”
With the statistics of a rapidly growing economy to back up her promise, Liberians have much to look forward to.