The President of Liberia, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, says the state of global trade is such that countries which depend solely upon the export of “natural capital” face challenges in setting conservation agendas.
She told the Summit on Sustainability in Africa in Gaborone this week that timber and rubber are Liberia’s main export items since the end of the war.
“Liberia faces a myriad of environmental challenges that have the potential to derail the nation’s development initiatives and the impact on its ability to achieve the MDGs,” the president said.
“We recall the unexpected example in Liberia in the 1970s when the price of iron ore fell from $600 to less than $100 and at the same time the price oil went from $15 to 75 overnight. Faced with the realities of the free market system, Liberia had no choice but to dig for more iron, at the cost of abusing our landscape and not much else to show for the millions of tonnes of ore exported,” Johnson Sirleaf told the Summit.
She added that the imperative of a sustainable development is to strike a balance between current needs and global future. Natural resource exploitation in agriculture as well as direct exploitation in the forestry and related sectors is the main source of income in Liberia’s economy which remains predominantly agrarian.
“Agriculture, including forestry, is critical to the economic development of Liberia and is a source of livelihood for 70 percent of the population,” she said.
Johnson Sirleaf added that as we go from referring our commodities as resources to calling them capital we are placing monetary value on everything that exists in the ecosystems from trees, to water to sand and rocks.
“We must take account for every natural capital in the development process and we need to formulate the right approach in striking the balance between our needs, our usage, of the capital and the conservation for the future. We must assess and take into account the consequences of global conditions such as climate change,” she said.
The Liberian President lamented that the $100 billion funding pledged by western donors at the Copenhagen Climate Change Summit have yet to be released to African countries for climate change mitigation and adaptation initiatives.
She said: “Until we have access to the best technologies for sustainable agriculture and renewable energy, we will continue to languish in poverty.”