— As ECOWAS Ambassador calls for national sensitization on local rice consumption
Stakeholders in the agricultural sector of Liberia have launched the Scaling Up Climate Resilient Rice Production in West Africa (RICOWAS) project in the country.
The project aims to improve climate resilience and increase the rice system productivity of small farmers within the subregion using a more climate adapted production approach.
It was launched on Friday at the Central Agricultural Research Institute (CARI) in Suakoko, Bong County.
Speaking at the program, the ECOWAS Ambassador to Liberia, Josephine Nkrumah, called for a national sensitization on the consumption of locally produced rice in the country.
She said amidst the current global food crisis, the government and citizens need to invest more in rice production and create awareness around its consumption to reduce the burden on governments’ budgets for rice importation.
The Liberian government subsidizes rice imports every year with hundreds of millions of dollars. The taste preference for rice still remains very high, particularly in urban areas.
According to her, rice is not just a food for the Liberians, but something that has become a political commodity that affects the economic and social conditions of the people.
RICOWAS is a four year rice project implemented by the Community of Hope Agriculture Project (CHAP) in Liberia in collaboration with the Ministry of Agriculture and development partners.
The rice project comes at a time when the government is making an effort to increase the domestic production of rice. Agriculture Minister Jeanine M. Cooper has said that Liberia will increase domestic rice production by 50% this year.
Rice production in Liberia still remains low due to many challenges, though there is a report of a minimum increase for the past three years.
The ECOWAS Ambassador stated that there was a need for stakeholders to take full ownership of the rice sector.
“This is the time that people need to seriously own the rice sector. So much money is put into the national budget to subsidise rice imports. How can we turn this around is something that we need to think about. Liberians have grown the taste for eating imported rice for so long, something that is now seriously hurting the nation. There is a need to create serious awareness about eating our local rice,” she emphasized.
She said that when the people of the country are hungry, it is a serious problem for the nation — that is the reason why ECOWAS introduced the RICOWAS rice project.
Nkrumah said that Africa needs to scale up the production of rice to feed its citizens.
“There is a need for us to scale up rice production as Africans, especially in the sub region. It should be a humble wake up call for us considering the Russian Ukrainian war,” she explained.
The ECOWAS Ambassador stressed the need for young people to be encouraged to pursue agricultural ventures for employment purposes.
“We must encourage the youth to take advantage of the rice value chain for employment opportunities. There is so much potential in the rice sector,” she said.
The National Project Coordinator of RICOWAS Liberia, Bishop Robert Bimba, calls for the stakeholders’ commitment to making the project a success.
Bimba, who is also the executive director of CHAP, said that approximately 500 smallholder farmers in Bong, Nimba, Lofa, Bomi, Montserrado, and Grand Gedeh counties are expected to benefit from the program.
According to Bimba, the main objective of the program is to improve climate resilience and increase the productivity of smallholder farmers within the subregion.
Also speaking, the Superintendent of Bong County, Madam Esther Walker, said that the government was ensuring the enabling environment for agriculture by working with development partners.
She said that a country that can’t feed itself will always be economically deprived.
Walker used the occasion to call on the political leaders of the country to invest in the agricultural sector.
“Growing more of our own food will reduce most of our problems as a nation. I want the politicians to go back to the soil, as this will create more jobs for the youth and improve food security. We, the officials of government, should lead the process of going back to the soil to feed the nation,” she stated.
Also speaking, the President of the National Rice Federation of Liberia, Mohammed Kamara, said he was pleased with the approach taken by West African leaders to support the scaling up of the production of rice within the subregion.
Kamara pledged the commitment of the stakeholders in the agricultural sector to make the project a success.