Liberia: Gov’t Aims to Improve Domestic Rice Production

…. Hosts National Rice Symposium

The Ministry of Agriculture has committed itself to making the requisite investment to ensure the production of rice, which is the country’s staple food.

The Ministry’s commitment comes at the opening of a two-day national rice symposium, which organizers say is geared towards identifying “policies and strategies” that would improve domestic rice production, which at present is not enough to meet the country’s rice needs — making it important dependent.

Charles Bright, the Economic Advisor to President Weah, who proxied for Vice President Jewel Howard Taylor, noted that the government views the symposium as a significant milestone in the government’s drive to transform the agricultural sector. 

“It is not only a perfect theme of this symposium but a catchy slogan to mobilize and encourage all hands on deck to ensure that the rice we eat must be the rice we grow, the rice that will be affordable and a rice of superior quality with rich nutrients,” Bright said. 

The symposium, which Bright noted is the first of its kind in the country, comes as Liberia’s overall rice consumption stands at 116.5 kilograms per capita, compared to the West African average of 84.5 kg per capita and the Sub-Saharan Africa average of 49.1 kg per capita.

In 2021, according to World Bank data, Liberia’s rice imports in the last decade had increased by 6.5 percent a year to reach 380,000 metric tons in 2021, as domestic supply declined by 0.2 percent a year — making the country named the fifth-highest consumer of rice in West Africa and the seventh-highest consumer in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Bright, however, noted that the ongoing event is a clear indication that the Weah government is committed to “bringing voices together, seeking innovative ways, and implementing a new pathway for getting rice right.”

“It is not only a perfect theme of this symposium but a catchy slogan to mobilize and encourage all hands on deck to ensure that the rice we eat must be the rice we grow, the rice that will be affordable, and rice of superior quality with rich nutrients.

“The Weah administration continues to take practical steps towards tackling the underdevelopment of the rice sector by incorporating all of its value chains from seed to planting,” Bright added.

He noted that it was imperative that participants at the symposium come up with concrete actionable steps to motivate the private sector in rice farming, production, and processing.

Agriculture Minister Jeanine Cooper, in her remarks, urged the participants to get intentional about rice production — not just cultivate, but make sure that the commodity is produced in a greater quantity.

She said for the country to achieve rice self-sufficiency it is required that more of the citizens get involved.

“We need to agree that rice production is a priority for all of us. It is not just for the government and the farmers, but for all of us across the nation. And so I am very pleased that this government has brought this symposium out for the first time. I am glad to have all of you here. The next two days we will remain discussing how we can get rice right in Liberia,” she said in her opening statement.

The Minister has said that the nation would provide 50 percent of the rice the country will consume this year. 

According to her, the government is working to create an enabling environment that will lead Liberia to rice self-sufficiency. Under her administration, farmers and other value chain members over the years have received grants to improve productivity. 

“It is not just growing the rice because Liberia can grow it. But we must be able to store, process that which we grow to get it to the consumers,” she told the participants of the symposium.

She added that the government is looking at ways they can invest more resources to stabilize domestic rice production.

“We must make sure that all of the links that make up the rice value chain are strengthened,” the Minister said.

“This rice production is a priority for all of us and not just for us during campaign time. It is not just the responsibility of the Agriculture Ministry but for all of us as a nation to produce more,” she added.

Augustus Flomo, Deputy Minister of Economic Affairs at the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning, said that Liberia is still spending more money on the importation of rice, and this is something that needs to change.

He said there was no need for the government of Liberia to continue to spend more money on rice.

“Why should the government of Liberia be spending so much money on rice with all the available land, good weather, and vegetation,” he said.  

Flomo noted that the Ministry of Agriculture should not only look at the fact that they are farming for food but they are also doing it to save the Liberian economy.

For his part, the President of the National Rice Federation of Liberia, Mohammed Kamara, called for a realistic approach toward supporting domestic rice production.

Kamara said the sector is still faced with numerous challenges and as such it will require more support from the government to support the farmers.

According to him, there has been some intervention made in the past but farmers are still in need of more support.

He used the occasion to, however, thank the government for the level of intervention being currently made in the rice sector.

Meanwhile, the current symposium is being held at the Farmington Hotel in Margibi County,  and under the theme “Getting Rice Right.”