Since the end of the civil war in 2003, Liberia has embarked on a sustained effort to reduce poverty and deliver security for all of its citizens. The economy has averaged 7% growth during this time, but ensuring that this growth creates the kind of empyment that can reduces poverty for the many remains a challenge.
Mining accounts for much economic growth but for less than 15,000 jobs, in a workforce of 1.2 million people. By contrast, agriculture – which accounts for over half a million jobs – only grew by 2.8% per year. This is lower than population growth. Liberia’s potential workforce is likely to double by 2030, estimates suggest the Liberia will have a shortfall of some 600,000 jobs by 2030 if nothing changes. Therefore Liberia needs to restructure its economy away from extractives and toward labour-intensive sectors if it is to provide the jobs and the welfare its citizens need.
The government has a vital role to play in lifting constraints on the job-creating private sector and in kick starting job-creating industries. Creating an environment which will enable the right kind of business to invest is essential. The government’s National Export Strategy 2014-2018 sets out a road map to develop sectors that have the potential to all but fill the jobs gap. These sectors are rubber processing and manufacturing, oil palm, cocoa and fisheries/aquaculture.
Implementing the strategy is not easy because it requires coordinated action by a wide range of ministries, agencies and development partners – who all tend to work to disparate agendas and mandates. We are supporting the government to overcome these challenges and to bring the National Export Strategy to life. First by cutting it down to a few manageable actions that will address the greatest constraints. Second by securing a consensus for action across the key Ministries and agencies involved – particularly the Ministry of Finance, the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, the National Investment Commission and the Ministry of State. Third by ensuring clarity of roles and responsibilities. Fourth by helping designated agencies to play their role in a coherent and coordinated way, while building their technical capacity.
If the government is able to spend the next two years focused on removing constraints in rubber processing, oil palm, cocoa and aquaculture then it would have laid the foundation for Liberia to structurally transform itself away from extractives and toward inclusive growth. And it would have firmly set the country on a path to create half a million jobs.