“Liberia Increased Rice Production By 53% in 2023”

Agriculture Minister, Dr. J. Alexander Nuetah

— Agriculture Minister Reveals

Liberia's agriculture minister, Dr. J. Alexander Nuetah said the country was able to increase rice production last year by 53 percent.

Minister Nuetah said Liberia increasing rice production at such a level is a remarkable success.

“I realized that from the report of the Emergency Rice Production Offensive (ERPO) initiative, we were able as a nation to develop 18,000 hectares with rice seed varieties which I think is remarkable. It is remarkable because at the results of the intervention based on the record, we were able to produce 30,000 metric tons of rice, which is a part of our success stories,” he said during the opening of the Stakeholders Engagement Forum on Addressing Pricing and Market Linkages in the rice and cassava value chains. 

But, the minister has expressed doubt over the report, saying that the facts need to be verified. 

The Stakeholders Engagement Forum was held in Monrovia last week to address challenges faced within the rice and cassava value chains following the successful implementation of the Liberian government’s World Bank funded ERPO initiative. 

Liberia relies significantly on rice import to meet consumption requirements for its population. Report from the Food and Agriculture Organization shows that in 2022 the country imported approximately 350,000 metric tons of rice.

Though the nation imports huge quantities of rice each year, frantic efforts are being made to produce more of it domestically. 

According to the World Bank 2023 report, growth in the agricultural sector which accelerated to 5.9 percent in 2022 from 3.3 percent in 2021 was driven mainly by increase in the production of rice and cassava. 

The agriculture minister has set a target to support farmers to produce 50,000 metric tons of rice annually within the next six years. He said the target metric tonnage of lowland rice will ensure sufficient rice annually to reduce importation.

Nuetah said stakeholders should  see the engagement forum as an opportunity of  reflection of the success of the rice offensive initiative.

It can be recalled that the previous administration promised last year to increase the production of local rice by 50 percent. 

However, the new minister said reports about farmers finding it difficult to market the several metric tons of paddy rice produced is going to be addressed. 

“The reason we encourage people to go into farming is to use it for income generation. When the farmers produce metric tons of rice there must be off takers. This forum is supposed to be driving the discussion about the off takers and the producers so that we can go about finding an amicable solution. But this is only possible when prices are real. If you tell me a quantity of metric tons is out there, I must be able to find the resources to purchase it,” he said.

“I want this pricing issue to be based on facts. Agriculture is a field that is based on facts. If you develop 1,000 hectares depending on how you grow it will lead to a certain output. I am interested in the outcome of this forum. Whatever decision taken here will be needed for policy making purposes,” the minister added. 

According to minister Nuetah, the reason why the ministry is supporting the farmers is to reduce the cost of production facing them so as to also make prices affordable for the consuming public.

“The reason why we provided support for all members of the value chain is to make reasonable profits and to make the rice affordable for the consumers,” he said.

Meanwhile, minister Nuetah has disclosed that his ministry is now revising the country's national agriculture investment plan to guide agricultural development for the next five years. 

“When the investment plan is revised I will be engaging all of the donors that if they want to support our rice production they will have to go according to the development plan,” he said.

The minister said rice remains a critical commodity for Liberia and there is a need for more investment.

He also used the occasion to challenge the private sector to get the rice on the market for sale.

“We want the rice value chain to be able to establish stores for the sale of local rice on the market,” he said.

Representing the Task Team Leader of the World Bank, Kadir Osman Gyasi, the Agriculture Specialist at the Bank, Kelvin N. Doesieh said the World Bank has acknowledged contributions made by the government to increase domestic rice production.

“Both of the ministry’s projects supported an increase in rice yield which has shown remarkable success. This was evidenced by the recent World Bank task team’s visit in Lofa and Nimba counties during its February 2024 implementation mission,” he said.

He mentioned that during the mission, pricing and market linkages were identified as key constraints. 

Doesieh, therefore, said the Bank sees the stakeholders dialogue forum as a pivotal role to improving the pricing and linkages issues. 

“Increasing rice production in rural communities and stored in warehouses will often not benefit the communities in terms of income generation and the country as a whole in revenues.  The Bank therefore encourages the full participation of all parties, especially the farmers, processors and institutional buyers to come with clear recommendations to resolve the market constraints for both the rice and cassava value chains,” he said.

The World Bank agriculture specialist said the Bank is committed to working with the government through the Ministry of Agriculture to make food and nutrition security achievable.

Giving an overview of the state of rice and cassava production in Liberia, the Crop Development Specialist of the Rural Economic Transformation Agriculture Project (RETRAP) at the Ministry of Agriculture, Dr. Moses Zolue said that as part of the strategy to increase rice production the Ministry of Agriculture is encouraging farmers to move into the lowland.

According to him, the lowland has the great potential to increase the production of rice for the country using technologies.

He said that to increase domestic rice production more has to be done by the government and the private sector.

Dr. Zolue said that the ministry’s intervention last year for rice and cassava was mainly focussing on seven counties.

The Ministry’s Crop Development Specialist said that the farmers were supported with improved rice seed varieties, fertilizers and equipment to increase yield.

He said that with the support provided to farmers mainly in Bong, Lofa and Nimba counties they were able to increase yield to 3.6 hectares average yield.

Zolue said that to create the enabling environment for the rice sector the government has passed several legislations.

But some of the policies mentioned by him are not yet operationalized to improve rice production.

For instance, the government is yet to operationalize the Liberia Seed Development and Certification Agency Act of 2019 which is very much critical for the improvement of the rice sector. 

Commenting on the cassava value chain, Zolue said there were several varieties of cassava cuttings being multiplied and distributed to the farmers.

He said that the provision for farmers with planting materials and tools has caused the country to increase cassava production on the market.

Zolue also mentioned that processors were supported to transport raw cassava tuber from farm gates through the ministry’s grant program. 

“Based on the intervention, we have caused farmers to progress from 5-16 metric tons of harvest for the market,” he said.

For his part, the MOA’s  RETRAP Project Operation Manager, Tarnue Jeke said that the findings from the workshop will go a long way in addressing pricing challenges in the rice and cassava value chains.

“We are not going to place the recommendations from the workshop under the table. We will make sure that we derive a final solution to the issues of  pricing and market linkages,” he said.

Jeke said that there are plans by the Ministry to now focus on farm mechanization which according to him will reduce labor cost in the sector to manage the issue of pricing.

He told this reporter that though the problem of pricing still exists, there is a need for the processors to build a better relationship with the producers to help improve market linkages.

Meanwhile, the participants describe the workshop as being helpful and request the organizers to arrange more of it in the future.

The participants believed that  the private sector will only produce more food for the market, provided the constraints of marketing are adequately addressed.