How Libyan Funded Agriculture Project Vanished into thin air; Abandoned rice project in Foyah, Lofa County at standstill, not a penny to show for it; agriculture equipment left to rot
ekou Kolubah is without a job these days. Kolubah and scores of residents in Foyah District in Lofa County had their hopes raised and then dashed in the twink of an eye, abandoned, forgotten and entrenched in poverty.
These days, Kolubah, a father of four, relies on handouts to feed his family, the farm project he was depending on is no longer on the radar and $US30 million dollars later, Liberia has very little to show for some US$30 Million dollars rice development project, seen at the time the agreement was reached in 2007, as a major accomplishment to Liberia enhancing its food security.
The deal was sealed in 2007 when the Switzerland- based Libyan Investment Company, Libya Africa Investment Portfolio (LAP) in partnership with a local NGO, the Foundation for Africa Development Aid (ADA) brought into the country US$30M for rice development.
Positive signal, negative results
LAP Vice President A. Filipe Gago and ADA Chief Executive Amb. Windell Macintosh went through the modalities and formulated the legal complications leading to a full scale operation of the company in Liberia.
At the time, both Gago and Macintosh heralded the move as a sign that the rice development investment initiatives were aimed at making Liberia self sufficient in rice production, so as to avoid the importation of rice, the country's stable food.
The Libya Africa Investment Fund was created in 2006 by the Libyan government with a US$5 billion as initial investment to contribute to the Development of African countries in the areas of mining, agriculture, hotel, tourist, and telecommunications among others.
The investment of LAP has since been increased from US$5 - US$8 billion and is currently operating in 19 African countries, including Liberia. The LAP initiative was one of the first investment announced by the post-war government.
At the time of the sealing of the agreement, the project was expected to start full scale operation with the Liberian government in 2008 with over 908 field workers expected to benefit from employment. But since the signing, FrontPageAfrica has learned that initially, some 500 residents of Foyah were employed but only for a few months as many had to be laid off when the project failed to take off.
As promised at the time of signing, the Libyan group, in partnership with ADA brought in new farming machines in to the country to start the rice development project. However, four years later, a visit to Foyah by FrontPageAfrica saw most of the equipment gaining rust, with many residents idle.
Empty land, no rice production
“We never cultivated any of this big land space you see here,” says Kollie Joseph, a Foyah resident, who says his uncle was one of the first listed to work on the project.
The project was expected to draw in expertise in Agriculture from Holland, Brazil and other European Nations as well as offer training for the locals in moving the investment forward.
The LAP/ADA rice development investment was expected to begin the first consignment of rice on the local and international market for consumption by the middle of 2008 but the project failed to take off, lowering earlier expectation that post-war Liberia was on course to growing rice and helping Liberians to do away with the concept of depending on other countries for its stable food.
Disappointingly, while Lofa is making progress in the area of agriculture, the much-touted industrialized rice farming project in Foyah District is at a standstill amid claims and counter claims of financial malpractices that made the company to run out of funds.
The US$30 million rice project supported by the Libyan Development Portfolio is a disappointment to residents of Foyah who were enthusiastic about the rice project at the time it was launched. The project provided job opportunities for more than 500 young people in the Foyah region. Today, however, Foyah residents are crying foul with many expressing regrets and disappointments over the ADA failure to live up to its expectation. The level of inactivity surrounding the ADA project in Foyah is troubling, despite the company being in possession of some of the best equipment capable of producing and exporting rice.
A FrontPageAfrica reporter who visited the ADA site near the Guinean border found the area completely abandoned. The facility contained farming equipment worth millions, guarded by a single unarmed security guard. When quizzed about the whereabouts of his employers, the guard said he had no idea and that his only concern was to protect the property in his charge. All attempts to get an official statement from an ADA representative proved futile as FrontPageAfrica was informed that the ADA office in Foyah had been closed.
Ironically, residents are baffled at how the ADA project went south. Initially, when news of the project came to light, inhabitants of the community were happy for the development. Nowadays, residents churned when the name ADA is announced.
Land controversy amid hardship
To some residents, ADA is using the power of the government through the Ministry of Agriculture, to suppress the town people and take away their land.
In a gathering with journalists under the palava hut in November, the chief and elders of the town voice their grievances. Town chief Fallah Mbokar is angry with the ADA. He says, “They are taking our land by force and telling us that the government has instructed them to take any land they want. Because of this power they say they have from the government, ADA has come into our bush without informing us. If they wanted to use our bush, they were supposed to sit and tell us what they will do for us because we are depending on the bush for living.”
He said that when he asked the ADA workers in the nearby bush as to why they were clearing their bush without meeting them first, he was told that the big people of ADA would meet the town people later. But up till now, he said ADA had not met with them even though they had been in their bush over two weeks destroying their crops.
“If they take our entire bush and clear it, is that not killing us in another way, because we will die from hunger? This bush is what we are depending to make our farms to survive but ADA people are taking the entire bush from us without sitting with us to come to one agreement. This bush is what we depend on to eat and send our children to school, and when they take all away from us, is that not killing us?”
He disclosed that with 1900 citizens, the entire town has only six toilets and two hand pumps and the facilities were not enough for the citizens.
“Since they are taking our bush, they should be able to open school to educate our children and clinic to treat us because the clinic we have in this town is not big to treat all of us and no medicine in the clinic. If they can’t do that for us, we don’t agree and we would want the government to step in and compelled these people to do something for us.”
Town chief Mbokar outlined the needs of his town, saying the clinic is not big enough for his people and the school they have in the town only goes to seventh grade, which means the children have to go as far as Foya to complete high school. He also said safe drinking water is a problem for them in his town.
“Two hand pumps are not enough for the people to have safe drinking water. Many people go to near by creek to get drinking water and they get sick from running stomach. The way we don’t have medicine in the clinic, we have to tote that person in hammock to the big hospital in Foya for treatment and sometimes they die before we get there because of the long distance.
The main thing that is hurting me about ADA is they have not employed any of our people but they brought workers from Monrovia and Foya.”
Old man Tamba Kendor an elder of the town interrupted the town chief when he said he is raising over 12 cows that were given to him by an NGO called Samaritan’s Purse. The cows depend on the bush to survive, but if ADA takes the entire bush from them, he said, how will his animals live?
“I am raising these cows to help myself, because if one is bought, the money would benefit me but when the bush is taken, how will the cows survive without food? This means I will have to be eating my cows or they die of hunger and I die later when I have no land to grow food to eat.”
Walking into the bush where the ADA workers worked for the day, many workers including men and women were seen brushing and digging to level a path they said would be used for fire drill to stop fire from spreading to another town when they are ready to burn the bush.
Some workers shy from press
It was noticed that workers when approached by the media, were coached into speaking to the press. The Human resource man had a long talk with the workers in the Kissi language before allowing them to speak with journalists. When the workers finally spoke with the workers, they all said similar things of how the company was doing well for them because they were in the employ of the company.
ADA/LAP through its head Mr. Elvis Morris said his Organization has not taken any land from the Village in question but his workers were preventing a fire disaster by creating a fire drill or fire break.
“We are preventing a fire outbreak in these Villages but we have not started operation there. The villagers are in the habit of burning farms in order to clear the farm and catch bush meat in the process but when the fire starts to spread attack their village, they would cry on ADA/LAP name because we are here.”
Mr. Morris further narrated that once ADA/LAP is not operating in an area; they won’t build hand pumps or schools because it is not their responsibility.
One of the workers whom journalists had met before going on the site, said they were not treated fairly but if they talk, the person would be fired, but he was willing to talk with journalists after working hours when he had retired for the day and gone home. But journalists could not get him after working hours due to poor network connection.
Speaking on the alleged unfair treatment of workers by ADA/LAP, Mr. Morris denied the allegation of unjust treatment but admitted to owing the employees for four months due to their financial crisis but paid the works in full when the problem was addressed.
“We don’t treat our workers unfairly; in fact, we are one of the best companies who pay its workers over a hundred U.S Dollars when big companies like Mittal Steel are paying their workers sixty U.S. Dollars.
In the wake of the standstill in Foyah, critics are pointing fingers at some of the key players involved in the deal now boiling in controversy including ADA/LAP Project Coordinator, Victor Benson, Mcintosh. For many residents of Lofa, questions are still lingering over how a project with so much promise ended up in a bust. The company in 2009 claimed it had brushed, cleared and tiled 1,700 hectares, which is 68% of its target 2500 hectares out of 10,000 hectares. But a visit to the area shows that not much work has been carried out and production level have fallen short of the projections earmarked at the start of the project.
There is also concern that the project’s ties to the Libyan government, currently battling a NATO supported insurgency, may have lead to its shutdown. The project was already in financial trouble: in 2010 it went four months without paying its workers citing a downturn in the global economy as a cause. Instability in Libya might have put it over the edge. Critics though have taken the handlers of the fund to task for failing to account for how the money was disbursed and why to date, workers are without jobs in a key district which could come in handy come election day.
Liberia to date boasts many Libyan investments including the ADA rice farm, the Ducor Hotel, Libyan Holdings and various construction projects which people worry might be in jeopardy if Ghaddaffi is ousted. A new Libyan regime would very likely change the country’s foreign policy away from supporting projects around Africa. At the very least, there would be an extensive period of confusion while the domestic political situation works itself out. This, economists say is already having a major impact on Liberian workers, and could harm the economy in the long run.