Liberia: “US$15M Required to Improve Domestic Rice Production”

Mr. Mohammed Kamara, President National Rice Federation of Liberia


— Rice Federation President Discloses

“Donor funds for agriculture come with restrictions. And so we can’t depend on it as a country to improve domestic production of rice. It will require that the government appropriates US$15 million in the budget for agriculture for rice within a period of five years.” 

These are the words of Mohammed Kamara, President of the National Rice Federation of Liberia (NRFL), when he appeared on Catholic Radio Maria in Monrovia last Thursday to discuss issues about agriculture.

Kamara said such an amount, when appropriated for rice in the national budget, will go specifically toward supporting farmers with machines to increase productivity in the rice sector.

According to him, stakeholders in the rice sector hold the government accountable for appropriating the budget for agriculture in line with the Malabo Framework for Food and Nutrition Security.

The framework calls for every African government to allot 10 percent of the total national budget for agriculture.

“If you look at the current national budget, the Government has allocated 1% toward agriculture of the total budget. What if there is a lack of donor funds in the future, then what can the Government do? We want the Government, if it has not deemed necessary for some reason to implement the Malabo Accord, to increase the budget to at least 5% for agriculture,” he said.

The Government of Liberia has allotted US$5 million in the fiscal 2023 draft national budget for agriculture, far below the Malabo Agreement and with no direct support for farmers and agribusinesses. Donor funds attracted by the Government for agriculture is approximately US$70 million to support the various agricultural value chains. Recently, the World Bank also approved US$ 30 million for rice production.

Finance Minister Samuel Tweah once told this reporter that as long as the Government has sourced enough money for agriculture there may be no need for increasing the budget for agriculture within the National budget.

According to the Finance Minister, Liberia is still faced with competing national priorities. 

But some stakeholders have assumed that sometimes donor funds allotted for agriculture are diverted for different purposes.  

Last fiscal year 2022, the amount of US$1 million was appropriated in the budget for farm mechanization, but there is no indication that such money was disbursed for the intended purpose. 

Kamara said he is aware about the allocation, but he is not aware of it being disbursed.

“The donor brings money and designates it as a co-investment fund meant to support agriculture. This is why we are advocating for the Government to prioritize domestic rice production by putting money in the budget,” Mohammed reiterated. 

He said that for donor funds to become impactful, there is a need for an assessment that will take into consideration the issue of deliverability. 

“It is not just about the thousands of beneficiaries who are to benefit at once. But it is the impact that we are looking forward to with the level of funding made. But if someone needs a million dollars and only fifty thousand for instance was provided to that person or institution, it is not going to meet the intended project objectives,” he mentioned.

Mohammed said they are working with the Government — particularly lawmakers — to submit a proposal for rice which, when accepted, will move the sector forward.

“Liberia is quick to adjust to the issue of the food crisis. Right now we are working with the Government on a whole lot of documentation intended to attract funding for domestic rice production,” he added. 

He however stated that donor funds for the rice sector are making some progress.

President George M. Weah has issued an Executive Order to lift tariffs on imported rice. Last year, it was reported that the government spent US$11 million to subsidize rice imports. Those moves are meant to make the commodity available and affordable for the many of the ordinary citizens. But not much is heard about measures to improve domestic rice production.

In fact, since President Weah set up the Rice Stabilization Task Force, the committee is yet to announce any measure for domestic rice production. The Task Force was established when Liberia suffered an acute shortage of rice for several weeks last year.  And even now the price of imported rice has increased on the local market following the Task Force recommendations to the President. 

“The government is striving to find a quick solution to the rice issue. But over the years we have not been able to lay down an actual priority plan in terms of how we fully implement or improve domestic rice production,” Kamara said. 

He said the entire West African region is now contemplating the improvement of domestic rice production.

“We have been working on the West African Rice policy for the region. This policy calls for more investment in rice production. It was agreed by stakeholders in West Africa that we work harder to address the rice issue in the sub-region,” he explained.

“That is why we were proposing our inclusion to the Rice Stabilization Task Force set up by the government, but our concern was ignored. You can’t form a committee to solve the rice problem and leave out the local stakeholders. Our inputs to solve the rice problem confronting the country is highly needed,” he added. 

Kamara said the government should always consult local stakeholders on how to solve the rice problem.

“We should not always be calling for the solution to the rice issues. The government should be the one asking us what we can do because they are the ones representing us. The people most of the lawmakers are representing are from the rural parts of the country [and] are mostly farmers. Our organization represents the vast majority of the farmers in the rice value chain. If we were to ask them today to come over to Monrovia, it will not augur well for the Legislature. We are representing the farmers who grow rice in this country and they are the ones who have elected the lawmakers,” he noted. 

Commenting on the Agriculture Investment Infrastructures Company (AIIC), a rice processing facility Kamara operates funded by partners, he said that work on the facility is not yet fully completed to begin operation.

AIIC is one of the industrial rice mill companies in the country to depend upon for the availability of local rice on the market.

The company recently received US$124,000 from the World Bank and IFAD, through the Liberian government to do some work on the facility to commence the processing of rice for the market.

Kamara said the funding, which was provided under the Liberia Agriculture Commercialization Fund (LACF), is meant to give a boost to the facility. 

“We have been able to work on the component of the parboiling section and it is now completed. We just need the engineer to come on ground to begin testing the machines to commence the processing and the training of staff. But the process for the Vendor to get the engineer into the country is still being delayed,” he explained.

It was reported by this newspaper that the facility would have been inaugurated by the President of Liberia early this month.

“The facility can’t be commissioned now because there are still some challenges. The operation of this facility is overdue and we should have taken some court action against the Vendor but, if we do, it will further delay the process,” he said.

Kamara emphasized that the challenges facing the AIIC facility and other rice companies should demand the attention of the government to speedily intervene.

“People should not think that challenges facing the AIIC rice business is a private issue. It should be a national issue to claim the attention of the government. I have spent nearly US$250,000 as a personal contribution toward the facility to make it functional to supply rice on the market,” Kamara said.

He mentioned that Lofa is blessed with vast swamp lands to produce more rice for processing.

However, he said there is a need for farmers to be supported with machines to produce more rice for processing.

“In the ‘70s there were many lowlands laid out by the government in the county. But those lands need to be revamped and farmers need machines to cultivate the lands.  Both processing facilities in the county have a very huge capacity to ensure the availability of processed rice on the market. But the government must support the producers. 

“The main priority is for more farmers to be supported to feed those mills. The facilities are there to create income opportunities for the farmers to reduce poverty in the lives of the people of the communities,” he added.

Kamara said that the farmers are getting tired with the old methods of farming, using hoes and cutlasses. 

“What most farmers want now is machines which I think is a simple thing for the government to do. The government just needs to provide the money for machines and work with us to make sure that we succeed,” he added.

He mentioned that once farmers of the country are supported to mechanize, more rice will be on the market.

“There is a huge market for our local rice. Once people see that we can provide quality rice for the market, the country can reduce the importation of rice. Government needs rice for its employees and to feed prisoners and patients at hospitals. We can provide the rice the government needs and the consuming public. The country now has those infrastructures in place to increase the supply of rice on the market. What we are frustrated about is the lack of adequate support,” he concluded.