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The previous five posts chronicled my journey with the Indiana Agricultural Leadership program to The Netherlands, Belgium, and Liberia. From an agricultural standpoint, the contrast between northern Europe and West Africa could not be more extreme. Northern Europe has highly developed agricultural systems; West Africa's agriculture is rudimentary by comparison. Now that the trip is a few weeks behind me, I thought it worthwhile to provide some big picture deductions after observing these two different places in our world.
1. Good infrastructure is critical to good agriculture.This seems obvious, but it really hits you in the head when you spend 8 hours on a bus just to travel 160 miles. That is what we experienced in Liberia, where it took an entire day to move from Monrovia to Ganta. Poor roads aren't just a problem for people, they are problem for agriculture, which depends heavily on moving food from fields to urban centers.
The long and bumpy road to Ganta.
Roads aren't the only part of good infrastructure. Efficient solutions to managing water are also crucial. The Netherlands should be a swamp, but instead it is a series of interlocking canals and rivers. The whole country seems designed to move agricultural products out to sea or inland to European Union countries. I have to contrast this with the United States, unfortunately, which seems unwilling to spend money on rebuilding worn roads, rail lines, or repairing locks on the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers. Our rail system was built in the 1800s; the Ohio and Mississippi River locks are products of the New Deal; and our interstate highway system is from the 1950s. All of these methods of transportation are critical for agriculture, but are we modernizing these systems to keep pace with the EU and China?
2. Government stability is just as important as government policy. Liberia lacked a stable government for nearly two decades. During this time, agricultural production ground to a halt. The Liberian government has stabilized today, but I sense it will take decades for foreign companies to feel comfortable investing in Liberia. Who wants to build a factory if the risk of instability still exists? Even with stability, government corruption still exists. We take for granted just how little corruption exists in our government. Instability and corruption are the enemy of progress.
3. USAID is making a difference in people's lives. I was very impressed with the work being done by USAID, the United State's foreign aid agency in Liberia. I had anticipated that USAID spent most of its time and energy distributing US food aid, such as rice, corn, and flour. That was a false assumption. Instead, USAID has designed specific programs tailored to the needs of Liberia. These programs seek to increase local rice production, cassava production, and goat herds. USAID is really teaching a man to fish, rather than giving a man a fish. And the result means not only more food for people who need it, but a fed population is more likely to increase regional security. That benefits US interests in West Africa.
4. First world debates about food and agriculture are very distant from third world food issues. In Europe, much like in the US, our class discussed the need for genetically modified foods (GMOs), organic vs. conventional growing methods, and foreign trade policies. These discussions would have been meaningless to the Liberians we met, who could care less if their food is organic or grown with use of pesticides or fertilizers. They just wanted enough food on the plate to feed themselves and their families. We get bogged down discussing how best to grow food, but for much of the world the main issue is how to grow enough food.
I was truly blessed to meet the people I did in The Netherlands, Belgium and Liberia and to travel with such a great group of friends. It was a trip of a lifetime. Thank you for reading about my journey. I welcome your comments below. This is part 6 of a 6 part series chronicling my journey with the Indiana Ag Leadership class to Northern Europe and The Netherlands.
Read more at Janzen Ag Law Blog by Todd Janzen, Partner, Plews Shadley Racher & Braun LLP.
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