September 27, 2023

Minister Chenoweth, the first female Minister of Agriculture in Liberia and Africa, made history in 1977 when she assumed the role under President William Richard Tolbert.

MONROVIA – Former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has paid tribute to her “longtime professional colleague and friend” the late Florence Alletta Chenoweth.

By: Gerald C. Koinyeneh –

Minister Chenoweth passed away at age 78 on Monday, June 26, 2023 in Monrovia after a protracted illness. Since her demise, tributes have been pouring in from close pals and former professional colleagues.

Minister Chenoweth, the first female Minister of Agriculture in Liberia and Africa, made history in 1977 when she assumed the role under President William Richard Tolbert. More than three decades later in 2009, she returned to the post of Agriculture Minister under President Sirleaf where she served until her resignation in 2015.

President Sirleaf, writing on Twitter, said “It is with deep sadness that I note the passing of Florence Chenoweth, a longtime professional partner & friend who served as Minister of Agriculture in my administration. She shattered glass ceilings & inspired the next generation of women leaders in agriculture & food security.”

Dr. Chenoweth was born in Robertsport, Grand Cape Mount County. She received a BSc. from the University of Liberia in 1967 and earned a Master’s degree in agricultural economics from the University of Wisconsin, Madison in the United States in 1970.

She was the first woman to serve as a minister of agriculture in Africa and at the time was the only female minister of agriculture anywhere. Attending the biennial FAO Conference for ministers of agriculture at FAO Headquarters in Rome, she encountered difficulties during an official visit by the ministers to the Vatican. She was briefly denied entry, being told by the guards that “it is not for wives.”

After the coup d’état in 1980, she fled Liberia and while abroad, returned to her alma mater at the University of Wisconsin in 1986 and earned a PhD in land resources, with a dissertation on “Small Farmers’ Response to Economic Incentives: A Case Study of Small Farmers in Liberia.”

Following her time abroad, Minister Chenoweth dedicated herself to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). She held various positions within the organization, including becoming the first Country Representative in South Africa and serving as FAO’s Liaison at the UN Headquarters in New York from 2001 to 2007.

In 2008, when Sirleaf assumed office, she called upon Minister Chenoweth to serve as Minister of Agriculture once again. During her second term in the government, Minister Chenoweth spearheaded the ministry’s transformational initiatives aimed at enhancing food security and agricultural expansion, particularly for smallholder farmers. She implemented capacity building programs and emphasized the slogan “GROW WHAT YOU EAT; EAT WHAT YOU GROW” to promote self-sufficiency and sustainable agricultural practices.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Agriculture has expressed profound sorrow over the loss of Minister Chenoweth, acknowledging her immense contributions to Liberia’s agricultural development.

“Her dedication to the country’s food security and agricultural expansion programs will be remembered and missed by many,” the Ministry said.

Funeral arrangements for Minister Chenoweth will be announced at a later date in consultation with her family. The nation mourns the passing of a trailblazer who paved the way for women in leadership roles and made a lasting impact on Liberia’s agricultural sector.

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