MONROVIA – As part of its efforts to combat against poverty, and improve the Liberian economy, the United States government, has selected 11 privately-owned local agro-businesses to benefit from a grant of US$7.8 million, with a call on the Government of Liberia (GOL) to address the deplorable road conditions and reduce the high cost of electricity to boost trade and investment in the country.
By Obediah Johnson
The beneficiaries include: AgroRetti, American Liberian Global Enterprise (ALGE), Atlantic Foods Company (AFC), JPL Consumer Incorporated, Kpailama Agro Business Enterprises Incorporated, and LIBHANA Produce Corporation.
Others are: Mahmonie Multipurpose Agriculture Project Incorporated, MicMork Incorporated, Nimba Ventures, Sustainable Agriculture Programme for Liberia, (SAP) and Wungko’s Farm
The grantees, which come from Montserrado, Maryland, Nimba, Grand Gedeh, River Gee, and Bong counties are specialized in food crops production, processing, domestic marketing and exporting cassava, sweet potato and eddo chips, palm oil supply and harvesting, palm and agro oil and other related products for domestic consumption and export markets, processing mills for rice, sugar cane and cocoa value chains, snail farming, amongst others.
The signing of the grant took place at a brief ceremony held at the premises of Atlantic Foods Company (AFC) located on Marshall Road in Margibi, outside Monrovia on Wednesday, July 5.
The grant was provided by the US government through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) under its Africa Trade and Investment (ATI) program. It is intended to attract an additional US$13.3 million investment in the private sector in Liberia.
Speaking during the signing ceremony, the Deputy Mission Director for USAID-Liberia Rory Donohoe said the US believes in the businesses and ventures being carried out by the beneficiaries to improve the country’s economy and provide job opportunities for citizens.
“I am very pleased to be here to be a part of a partnership with 11 different companies that will be receiving trade and investment grants from the USAID. We believe in your vision and we believe that your vision sparks inclusive growth. We have already heard that you are creating jobs that will end poverty and build a resilient Liberia that is able to respond to shocks.”
He stressed that it is quite significant that all of the businesses benefitting from the grant are working in the agriculture sector, because, according to him, 60% of Liberians depends on agriculture.
Mr. Donohoe noted that despite the efforts being applied, there are challenges that continue to limit growth in the agriculture sector, including disorganized value chains, lack of investment, among others.
He observed that farming is done at a subsistence level where farmers are only growing food to feed themselves and their respective families.
He added that the lack of support makes these farmers unable to sell their produce to others to generate income.
Mr. Donohoe stated that as a result of this, many Liberians cannot build wealth or address some challenges from the agriculture sector.
He furthered that there is also no tax revenue being generated by the government from the sector to invest in public services, including health and education.
“Today investment is not going to handle all of those constraints, but that is the beginning. You all will succeed. We have no doubt that your companies can revolutionize the agriculture sector. Through the agriculture value chain, you can create job market and improve lives. What we are trying to do is more than just to provide money.”
Mr. Donohoe, however, assured that in order to succeed, the US government and the private sector should continue with the pressure on the Liberian government to remove the barriers or bottlenecks strangulating agriculture productivity in Liberia.
He made specific reference to the improvement of the road conditions across the country, the reduction in the price of electricity, and other hindrances preventing local businesses from exporting their products to different countries.
“The government can and should do more by making it easier for you to have your businesses and for investors to invest in your businesses.”
For his part, the Senior Technical Director of the ATI, Golden Mahove pointed out that the group would boost trade and investment in sub-Sahara Africa and creates more jobs across the continent and the United States respectively.
“This is about how we do businesses; it is about African businesses with the US and how US businesses do business with African businesses.”
For Liberia, he disclosed that about 82 businesses in three categories, applied to receive the grant, but 30 were shortlisted.
Out of those shortlisted, he recalled that, 11 were selected by the ATI for further negotiations towards the finalization of the grant agreements.
He named the streamlining of contents and capacity assessment of businesses to see whether or not they are able to perform as some of the main criteria for a business to qualify for the grant.
Mr. Mahove said the agency will monitor and request the beneficiaries to consistent report to ensure that their businesses are succeeding.
He stated the businesses selected are processing, creating jobs and exporting their products across the African continent to create a more vibrant economy.
According to him, Liberian-owned businesses are committed and determined to compete and succeed as compare to their foreign counterparts.
Mr. Mahove maintained that these companies and businesses are already providing thousands of jobs to Liberians, and the grant will help ensure that more job opportunities are directly and indirectly provided.
He observed that by working with companies and businesses, the USAID is immensely contributing towards the transformation of Liberia and its citizens through job creation and economic growth and development.
Also speaking, the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of AFC Amin Modad disclosed that the concept of his company derived during the outbreak of the Ebola Virus Disease in Liberia in 2014.
“There was a period we noticed that a ship from La Cote D’Ivoire was stopped from coming to Liberia with food because of fear of spreading the Ebola. I being a proponent of agriculture and value addition representing Liberia at the World Trade Organization (WTO), I decided at that time that never should we allow ourselves to be in such a desperate situation where we cannot feed ourselves when we are victimized by those circumstances.”
He noted that he later decided to “work the talk” by getting into food production, commencing with water processing.
He disclosed that his dream was to diversify into the production of other food products.
Mr. Modad pointed out that as evidenced by that, his company managed to export well-packaged and internationally accepted palm oil to the United States prior to the outbreak of the Coronavirus pandemic.
He said as a result of the pandemic, ATC was constrained to shutdown, like other businesses for few years.
He, however, underscored the need for the dissuasion of the huge importation of food products in Liberia that can easily be produced, packaged and marketed by local businesses here.
“I welcome you to this program with great appreciation for what it means for not only the various businesses that are benefitting, but what it means to Liberia. Liberia is still an importer. We are still importing all of our food stuffs; from rice and other basic necessities to meet our demand; less than we are exporting.”
Mr. Modad observed that though Liberia is a signatory to various trade agreements, the nation and local businesses are not adequately benefitting due to lack of potentials to export to the world market.
He described the US’ government grant to the privately-owned Liberian businesses as the “first major support that we’ve gotten that will get us back on our feet.”
He stressed that the support and partnership with the USAID will go a long way not only to the beneficiaries, but to Liberia in particular.
Mr. Modad emphasized that the grant will benefit thousands of small farm holders and serve as a “bridge for the outside markets.”
He expressed the hope that the move made by the United States government would also serve as the “first step into building a very resilient Liberian economy.”
The USAID Africa Trade and Investment program is designed to bolster the US government’s ability to boost trade and investment to, from, and within the African continent.
The continent-wide program is USAID’s flagship effort in support of the Prosper Africa initiative which will expand and accelerate two-way trade and investment between African nations and the United States.
It will complement the US government’s trade and investment tools through customized services-from business consulting and transaction facilitation to targeted policy interventions.
The program which runs up to 2026 will generate thousands of jobs across the African continent and within the US, deliver billions in exports and investments, mobilize private-sector-driven solutions, create healthy business environments, and spur economic opportunities for women and youth.