— With the exception of Guinea, Sierra Leone, Guinea Bissau, Côte d’Ivoire, Liberia is the 5th largest consumer of rice in West Africa, says World Bank.
The growing demand for rice amid inadequate production capacity is fueling food insecurity and poverty, which disproportionately affect the most vulnerable, according to the World Bank.
In a report about the Liberian economy, the Bank noted that over the past 15 years, rice consumption in Liberia has increased at an annual rate of 4.6 percent, reaching 560,000 metric tons in 2021.
The report, which cited data from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), named Liberia as the fifth-highest consumer of rice in West Africa and the seventh-highest consumer in Sub-Saharan Africa.
“High population growth, households’ preferences for rice, and changes in income are the main drivers of the demand for rice in Liberia,” the Bank disclosed.
“A large share of the demand for rice in Liberia is met through imports. The country’s annual rice consumption was 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.”
The report also shows that, with the exception of Guinea, Sierra Leone, Guinea Bissau, and Côte d’Ivoire, Liberia was the 5th largest consumer of rice in West Africa— more than Nigeria, Ghana, and many Sub-Saharan African countries.
The supply, and price dynamics are driving the demand for rice, which has been the country's staple food for more than a century — shaping food insecurity — and poverty in Liberia, the Bank says.
Food insecurity, the report noted, remains a major challenge for Liberia, with more than four-fifths of the population facing moderate or severe food insecurity.
“Amid low production and high demand, the increase in imported rice prices continues to fuel food insecurity, poverty, and vulnerabilities in Liberia,” says Gweh Tarwo, Economist for Liberia at the Bank and main author of the report.
“Domestic rice production would need to triple to satisfy local demand, but increasing production would require significant investments in the rice sector as well as policy actions,” he emphasized.
According to the report, growth in the agricultural sector accelerated to 5.9 percent in 2022 from 3.3 percent in 2021. The growth, the report claimed, came as a result of increased crop production, especially rice and cassava, produced primarily for domestic consumption.
Rice imports, however, represent two-thirds of the country’s total consumption, compared to only one-third in 1979 — the year of the rice riots in Monrovia, the report noted.
In the last decade, imports have 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, the report says.
It added that over the same period, the self-sufficiency rate dropped from a peak of 47.9 percent in 2011 to 32.2 percent in 2021, while the country’s import bill for rice has also increased fivefold between 2011 and 2021, growing at 15.6 percent yearly.
“The rapid growth in imported rice supply reflects the high demand for the commodity in the wake of limited domestic supply—but also households’ preferences for the improved quality of imported rice.
“By 2021, rice imports would make up more than one-half (52 percent) of the value of imported food and about 14 percent of total imports, making it one of Liberia’s major commodity imports,” says the report.
“Despite a relatively good agricultural harvest during the year, food insecurity remains a major challenge for Liberia, with more than four-fifths of the population facing moderate or severe food insecurity,” said Mack Capehart Mulbah, Acting World Bank Country Manager for Liberia.
“The strong preference for rice among Liberians makes it integral to the country’s food security, poverty alleviation, and efforts to address vulnerabilities.”
Yet Liberia, the report says, produces only a third of its rice needs due to several constraints, including limited access to technology, inefficient farming practices, low public and private investments, and a fragmented value chain, among other factors that have kept productivity low.
The Liberia Economic Update, which is titled “Getting Rice Right for Productivity and Poverty Alleviation, is the Bank's 4th assessment of the country’s recent economic developments and to assist the government and its development partners in identifying emerging issues and addressing persistent challenges.
It presents a broad overview of Liberia’s macroeconomic context, assesses the macro-fiscal and growth outlook over the short and medium terms, and sheds light on the rice sector and the implications for productivity and poverty alleviation in Liberia.
The objectives of the series are to (i) strengthen the analytical underpinnings of development policy in Liberia, and (ii) contribute to an informed debate on policy options to enhance macroeconomic management and accelerate progress on the World Bank Group’s twin goals of eliminating extreme poverty and promoting shared prosperity.
Meanwhile, Liberia’s economy, the report said, expanded by 4.8 percent in 2022 despite global headwinds from the war in Ukraine, high global inflation, and depressed demand in advanced economies.
The expansion was driven by gold production and a relatively good agricultural harvest.
Growth in services slowed to 2.8 percent from 3.0 percent in 2021 reflecting a slowdown in trade and transport services and the hospitality industry, the Bank disclosed.
It added that economic growth is expected to taper off to 4.3 percent in 2023 before gradually accelerating to an average of 5.6 percent over 2024–2025 as the country benefits from tailwinds from mining and structural reforms in key enabling sectors—energy, transportation, trade, and financial services.
“Liberia’s medium-term economic outlook is positive, but uncertainties remain. As global commodity prices recede and the central bank maintains a prudent monetary policy stance, inflation is expected to linger in single digits.
“The government’s fiscal deficit is projected to narrow in the medium term as the authorities strengthen expenditure controls. The main risks to the outlook, in addition to the fluctuations in commodity prices, are the uncertainties associated with the impending general and presidential elections,” the Bank noted.