Recently the Ministry of Agriculture (MOA) revealed that it would harmonize a standard pricing system for agricultural products (crops) to alleviate price constraints smallholder farmers are faced with as it relates to marketing their farm produce.
The pronouncement by the Ministry is contained in its 8th edition of the Food and Nutrition Security Situation Response report. The regular report seeks to inform stakeholders and the general public about the level of food security in the country and step the Government has taken, amid the Coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19).
The report said amid the pandemic, food prices are very stable in all parts of the country except for oil palm which continues to climb up in Lofa County. At the same time, the report also stated that there has been a noticeable increase in the price of gari (processed cassava) in some parts of the country, including Grand Kru, Bong, Sinoe, Margibi, Grand Cape Mount and Bomi Counties respectively.
In March 2020, Liberia experienced the COVID-19 outbreak and it has led to serious disruption of agricultural activities due to stringent measures introduced by the Government to contain the spread of the virus.
Considering the effect that the virus could pose on the food security and livelihood of the citizens, the MOA is said to be working to identify challenges that confront agriculture and food security and finding ways to mitigate the effects.
Poor pricing system for crops is one of the many challenges that is facing smallholder farmers. Many farmers in the various areas of production are yet to get fair prices for their produce on the local market since the end of the Liberian civil war.
For instance, farmers in the cassava and cocoa sectors have constantly experienced frustration from the sale of the produce.
This is because the market is being dominated by middle men who have considerable influence on the price of products sold to the consumers.
The situation which has remained unaddressed by previous administrations continues to keep most farmers in abject poverty as they cannot obtain better profits from goods sold. It also discourages potential local investors from venturing mainly in the food sectors.
But an expert in the sector has said that products pricing system cannot become successful if the government will not consider subsidy for farmers.
Joseph Morris, president of the Cassava Sector Coordinating Committee, told the Daily Observer through a mobile telephone conversation, “We understand that the move is good but I see it not to work right now. There was a study done in the past to ensure price harmonization, but did not succeed because it was not supported by the Government.”
Morris said that giving out planting materials to smallholder farmers to plant at the start of every farming season is a form of subsidy and therefore the Ministry of Agriculture should work harder in providing such assistance.
“The Government must begin to promote the provision of more grants and loans for smallholder farmers across the value chain,” Morris added.
It can be recalled that Agriculture Minister Jeanine Milly Cooper upon taking office early 2020 promised to make subsidy to farmers a priority to enhance production, but since then not much has been done to realize the dream.
In the 2019/2020 fiscal year national budget, the Government allotted US$1 million to improve rice production. But the Government in March of this year through the Ministries of Finance and Agriculture signed US$700,000 cash collateral agreement for use in the rice sector. Unfortunately, the US$ 700,000 is yet to be released by the Ministry of Finance to the selected beneficiaries, something this paper is investigating.