— Agriculture Minister Cooper Maintains
“I have never swayed away from my discourse on rice. We can produce our own rice. I said exactly that yesterday. But just as 45 years ago politicians deliberately misinformed the public, so it will always be,” Agriculture Minister Jeanine Milly Cooper said in a social media post.
The minister’s post comes as a result of a local media report that, she says, wrongly quoted her as saying that the “rice situation currently facing the country cannot be resolved.”
“I said that we can, and I said it at least four times in a media event on October 26th, World Food Day. I also said it at least five times in different ways during the Senate’s hearing, which ended with an instruction to develop a plan for it and report back within two weeks,” Cooper mentioned in the post on the local stakeholder platform.
The minister said it is possible for the country to produce rice locally within 2 cropping seasons using irrigation structures.
Following the country’s experience of a shortage of rice on the market in recent times, the agriculture minister was before the Senate to provide information about the controversial US$11 million subsidy for rice imports.
But according to media reports, Minister Cooper told the Senate hearing that she as a minister was not in any way involved in the discussion to subsidize importers.
Rice is Liberia's main staple food, but the country is yet to meet domestic supply requirements to ensure food security for its citizens. A report shows that the country still spends nearly US$200 million annually for rice importation.
The government apportioned US$11 million in the recast budget for last fiscal year as a rice import subsidy to stabilize the rice markets.
Media reports quoted Minister Cooper as saying that plans to discontinue subsidies for rice amidst the current worsening food insecurity situation facing the country for local production are not healthy for the country.
“Should we stop providing subsidies to importers and give them to agriculture? It is possible, but risky. We are not at a level to compensate for imports. Liberia is the only country in West Africa doing that. The suggestion is doable but risky. We need to plan well,” an article quoted the minister as saying.
The minister’s clarification comes following a suggestion by some lawmakers that it is possible for the government to allot US$50 million to subsidize domestic rice production.
Domestic rice production is yet to receive government subsidy, except funding that comes from external sources. The government in the last budget allotted US$1 million for farm mechanization but disbursement of such an amount is yet to be realized.
Meanwhile, Minister Cooper has repeatedly stated that Liberia can produce its own rice.
She told development partners during this year's World Food Day celebration that the setting up of a task force for rice by the President George M. Weah was not a mistake.
According to her, the task force, of which she is a member, will derive means by which Liberia can make rice available on the market through a combination of importation and local production.
Cooper disclosed that the task force was not a strange committee for Liberia but a strategy that was once in place before the war.
“The task force for rice is something very much welcoming and we would like to thank the President for this. This was a committee that once advised the government about the rice issue. But the idea of the committee was misconstrued that led to the upheaval in the country,” Cooper disclosed.
She said despite the food security challenges, under the administration of President Weah, development partners are committed to support agriculture to reduce poverty and end hunger in the country.
“There is a lot of commitment from our development partners regarding our food security situation. Liberia can produce its own rice to become self-reliant,” she said at the World Food Day program.
Recently, the Ministry, through its projects, has released funding to some members of the rice sector to enable them to supply the markets.
Minister Cooper has however disclosed plans for a rice forum with stakeholders in the sector to discuss the way forward toward domestic support for rice.
The rice forum is expected to be held some time in December of this year.