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April 06, 2009

Liberia's agriculture minister resigns

Liberian Agriculture Minister Christopher Toe has resigned, the information minister announced April 5, amid an ongoing row over funds for victims of crop-destroying caterpillars.

Information Minister Laurence Bropleh said on ELBC radio Toe had resigned and sent his letter of resignation to President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf who accepted it.

No reason was given for his resignation and when contacted Toe said he could not say more than what the government had announced. "It was a discussion between the President and I and I can't say more than what the government is saying," he said.

As agriculture minister Toe was the head of a special task force set up by the west African Mano River Union countries to combat the invasion of caterpillars, described as the worst such plague in 30 years.

During a tour of affected areas last month Sirleaf expressed anger over the slow pace of aid for affected people when funds had been made available. Three days later Toe called a press conference to say he had not received any money to take care of the victims. Analysts believe that the row could be the reason for his resignation.

The caterpillars are a very destructive pest that attacks a wide range of crops including coffee and cocoa, key cash earners. Over a hundred Liberian villages have so far been affected by the plague and authorities warn that hundreds of thousands of people could face hunger because the caterpillars have devoured all the crops.

Liberia declared a state of emergency and called on the international community to help it deal with the plague, which has also spread to parts of Guinea and threatens Sierra Leone's border region with Liberia.


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