Liberia: Pres. Weah Says No Rice Shortage, But…

President George Weah

President George Weah may have rejected the news of rice scarcity on the Liberian market, saying it is street talk, but the reality on ground proves different.

Weah, in a remark, from the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) on Sept. 26, said, "We need to not just listen to the street talks. So I listened to them (importers). Not those that just want to say anything they want to say.  I don’t listen to them. I believe that there is rice, we need to verify again.” 

However, from evidence gathered, rice stock on the Liberian mark is low.  On Tuesday, hundreds of people were standing at Fouani Brothers in Vai Town, standing in long queues to secure rice supply.  

This was the scene across many rice supply business premises yesterday.  Importers were limited to 10 bags per individual at a time -- so as to help others get. 

The situation has led to an increase in the price of a 25kb bag of rice from US$13.00 to US$18.50, something which is out of the reach of many in Liberia, many of whom live on US$1 dollar per day.  At present, Liberia's poverty rate is 50.1 percent of the population, according to the World, with extreme poverty on the increase at 16 percent. 

Meanwhile, Zoom Dosso,  the Public Relations Officer for the Rice Importers Association has said that “rice is limited [in the country] because importers are bringing in new goods.” 

The vast majority of Liberians rely daily on rice, a commodity that is considered ‘essential’ to the country’s economy — albeit one which is not produced locally in nearly sufficient quantity — making the country vulnerable to the global food crisis as a result of the war in Ukraine. 

Liberia is vulnerable as a net importer of rice (the country’s staple), accounting for 30 percent of total imports (10 percent of GDP), the World Bank said in a report on Liberia’s third economic update, released September 28, 2022. 

The increase in rice prices on the domestic market puts vulnerable households in Liberia at a risk of food insecurity. Even though the global price of rice fell by 7.8 percent in 2021, the average price of a 25kg bag of imported rice in Montserrado (Monrovia) soared by 26 percent to US$19 in 2021, up from US$15 in 2020.

 In other parts of the country, the price of a 25 kg bag of rice is much higher, varying between US$23 and US$28 in remote counties (Rivercess, US$23; Lofa, US$23.5; Maryland, US$24.8; Grand Kru, US$26.4; Sinoe, US$26.6; Grand Gedeh, US$28.2; and River Gee, US$28.2), where the quality of the road network is poor. 

In the subregion, data collected from the statistical offices revealed that the price of a 25kg bag of imported rice was higher in Monrovia (US$19.2 per bag) than in Freetown (US$17.0 per bag) and Conakry (US$18.5 per bag) in 2021. 

The increase domestically is mainly driven by high distribution costs and buoyed fuel and transport costs. The government of Liberia has recently announced its intention to maintain the retail price of a 25kg bag of imported rice at between US$13.5 and US$14.0.

 However, there is a gap between the price announced and the one observed in the market. Rice, along with cassava, is Liberia’s main staple food, consumed by practically all Liberians daily. A significant increase in the price of rice in the domestic market has dire consequences on food security, poverty, and social stability. 

The scarcity of rice on the Liberian market followed a similar partner  last year -- lasting for a few weeks before an increment was made. And early this year,  there was an additional increment but that changed when the President paid an announced visit to several warehouses at the Free Port of Monrovia and guaranteed that the price of rice would never increase.

However, importers are pointing to the rise in the global price of rice and the high tax at the Freeport as justification for the need to hike the price of the commodity above the government's preference of US$13.00.  They claim that the government has downplayed their request so they are left with no option but to hoard their goods in order to pressurize the government to agree to their demand.

Meanwhile, the spokesperson for the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, Jacob Parley, said a report has been forwarded to his bosses, but they have not commented. “We followed the report and I have followed it to my bosses, but they have not responded. Once they respond, I will get back to you,” he said.