“Food Sovereignty”: Liberians Learning to Build Rice Mills

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A rice mill made in Liberia

Liberia’s quest to become a food-secure nation is gradually gaining momentum with the introduction of technologies and other innovative means that will help enhance productivity, especially in the area of the country’s staple food, rice.

With the help of partners such as AfricaRice, African Development Bank (AfDB) and others, Liberia has in recent years made steady progress in the sector, especially in the areas of production, value addition, empowerment of farmers and marketing. The introduction of new technologies have, in fact, been the crux of these partners’ efforts in the country.

The latest of these is the fabrication of rice mills, which is currently on-going in Gbarnga, Bong County. Artisans have been drawn from across the country and are being trained in rice mill fabrication.  The training is an AfricaRice initiative in collaboration with the Smallholder Agricultural Productivity Enhancement and Commercialization (SAPEC) project, conducted at the Moon Light Workshop in Gbarnga. The workshop is not just one of the well equipped but most outstanding workshops in the country.

This development comes at a time when many of the advanced rice mills imported in the country by the Ministry of Agriculture and partners have been out of order, either because parts for these rice mills are either hard to find or there are no technicians available to provide maintenance.

Explaining the significance of the Rice Mill Fabrication program, AfricaRice Chief of Party (COP), Dr. Innousa Akintayo said last week: “Our baseline study revealed that our mothers and sisters continue to use mortar to process rice. This is not acceptable in the 21st century.

“The survey also showed the presence of thousands of imported rice mills in graveyards. Yes, the mills are in the graveyards as they are abandoned and have become useless,” Dr. Akintayo said.

Dr. Akintayo (right) and Bong Superintendent Esther Walker (center) view the milled rice

When asked about the reasons for abandonment, Dr. Akintayo noted that the responses across the country are the same. “No spare parts, we cannot afford importing spare parts,” he disclosed, adding that the findings of the survey is true for the majority of imported agriculture equipment over decades.

The solution for this, AfricaRice boss said, is to build local capacity, to address the situation and make it sustainable. “This is the objective of our workshop. This is why we are here today and for the next two weeks.

“If our artisans are able to build a thresher, a planter or a rice mill, they will be able to repair them when there is a problem,” he said.

Agriculture remains a major source of income not only in Liberia but the entire Africa. But untapped potential has resulted in persistent poverty, unemployment and deteriorating food security.

As a result, agriculture equipment building is among the key potential areas that need to be unlocked. Dr. Akintayo said, “The training we are offering is a good opportunity for all artisans present here or those who are ready to invest in agribusiness. It is also a good job opportunity for the youths.”

One advantage of the new rice mills that are being fabricated is that they can be moved easily from place to place.

“It can be used to provide service in remote localities as this is the case in Senegal and Mali.

“My dream is to see this happen in Maryland, in Grand Gedeh, in Grand Kru, in Bong—for short, in all counties. We have started distributing some of the mills across the country. At least 6 counties are already served. More counties will be served very shortly,” Dr. Akintayo said.

Participants and officials at the opening of the rice mill production workshop

The AfricaRice executive hoped the participants, upon the completion of the training, will contribute to the realization and sustainability of the “dream of mine.”

“This will be possible by using acquired knowledge during this training for maintenance of the mills in your respective counties and building more mills,” Dr. Akintayo said.

“SAPEC will do everything possible to facilitate and monitor your contribution,” he added.

The workshop is being facilitated by a post-harvest and processing expert from Benin, Dr. Roger Ahounsou, and mechanization expert, Dr. Jean Moreira. Parts for the mills are locally collected.

“We don’t have to go anywhere to get the parts to make these mills. They are here with us in Liberia,” Dr. Akintayo noted.

Liberia in 2015 received a grant of US$46.5 million from the Global Agriculture and Food Security Program (GAFSP), as well as a loan of US$4 million from the African Development Fund (ADF), to finance the SAPEC project and reduce rural poverty and household food insecurity. Its objective is to increase, on a sustainable basis, the income of smallholder farmers and rural entrepreneurs, particularly women, youth and the physically-challenged.

The project covers 12 of the 15 counties; however there are some activities of the project that cover the entire country. The project  has four components: Sustainable Crop Production Intensification; Value Addition and Marketing; Capacity Building and Institutional Strengthening; and Project Management.

However, AfricaRice had a week earlier concluded a training program on integrated rice management in which forty participants from all counties participated.

“We are now launching this program which will go a long way in our quest to see a more sustainable and vibrant sector,” Dr. Akintayo said.

Two training programs in less than a month on the same crop (Rice), Dr. Akintayo said, is a sign of importance of rice in Liberia. “it is a sign that we are ready to be in the front line of the Government’s struggle for food sovereignty in Liberia.” AfricaRice has already trained numerous Liberian artisans in the building of rice threshers.

“This is the way China, India, Vietnam and many other Asian countries built their agriculture sector. Let us follow their example,” he urged.

It is obvious that Liberia cannot do all at once, but it is time to start from somewhere, he noted.

“Last year, in this workshop (Moon Light), we trained artisans to build rice threshers, today, we are tackling rice mill building,” he said.

Dr. Akintayo disclosed that more training programs are planned to deal with other equipment.

Artisans at work in the process of producing a rice mill

Though there are no females among the participants, which he said is as a result of the difficulties faced in recruiting women in these areas, they (women) are however the first beneficiaries.

“Having rice mills in villages will without any doubt alleviate the drudgery resulting from manual rice milling.  Women are not part of this program today but their role in agriculture is well recognized. In fact, they are the main actors along the rice value chain,”

“Remember, the future millionaires in Liberia will come from the agriculture sector. You may be one of them,” he told the participants.

In keeping with its promise to SAPEC to meaningfully contribute to the improvement of agriculture and agribusiness sectors in Liberia, AficaRice, Dr. Akintayo noted, will work shoulder to shoulder with the government, development partners, and all actors along the rice value chain including the artisans, to make Liberian agriculture a prosperous one and the dream of President George Weah a reality.

In a brief statement the Superintendent for Bong County, Esther Walker, said “these are the kinds of initiatives that our country needs. I’m so impressed to be here this morning. This tells us that we are moving forward as a country”.

She lauded AfricaRice and partners for the initiative and admonished the participants to see the training as an opportunity to contribute their quotas to nation building.

4 COMMENTS

  1. I am somewhat perplexed. Is Liberia building, assembling or manufacturing rice mills? Come on! As much we eat (Asians consume as much if not more) rice, it will be a wonderful idea if it could be said that “with the presence of Chinese technicians in the country, Liberians are manufacturing” rice mills for nationwide use. On the other hand, I am proud of what’s being done. I hope and pray that we’ll go the extra mile pretty soon.

    Ship ..
    A few months ago, we the people were informed not by twitter, but by genuine news outlets that a ship was built in Liberia, not by space aliens but by real Liberians. It was reported that with the help of Chinese technicians, Liberians built a cargo ship for commercial use. That was good news then and now. I went my extra mile by telling some Nigerian co-workers that Liberians are ahead in shipbuilding than any black African country. The co-workers weren’t too happy, but I didn’t care less. So, it is my hope that rice mills will be built in Liberia not just for internal use but also for our export market. And yes, I will not hesitate to spread the news!

    It is welcome news for rice mills to be built in Liberia. I mean from scratch to finish. There is a humongous market for rice machines (if they were manufactured in Liberia) to be sold in Nigeria and elsewhere in Africa. Shoot, when Liberians produced sugar in the late 70s, Europeans patronized our business. So, we could go beyond the African continent to sell rice machines. Remember, the sugar was produced in Maryland, the most indisputable beautiful county in Liberia. Readers, let’s not argue about this!

    • This is a very encouraging development! A technological development undertaken to encompass the capacity of a people to be in of their lives is the key to any sustainable development initiative-an instruction that has not been emphasized in our educational system. Hope Liberia allocate more resources to vocational education through which Liberian can use their ingenuity to laid the industrial foundation of our country.

  2. Good news from my country, it makes me happy to hear such development. I m very optimistic , that with good plan, this is a first step in a very positive direction. A nation that cannot feeds itself, is subject to humiliation in the hands of others. Some of our past leaders have tried, in the past, to make us self sufficient in the production of rice, however; non had been successful.

    I m quite sure, the phrase, ” total involvement for higher height”, brought to us by the late Baptist preacher William Tolbert, was, for us Liberians, to be self reliance. One can only be self sufficient, and self reliance if he/she can feed herself. The Master sergeant ( Samuel Doe), came up with green revolution (going back to the soil), in the mid 80s. Millions of dollars were spent on students at various institutions, scholarships were given, at the end of the day, Liberia was still importing rice from Burma (Myanmar), or Thailand to feed its people.
    Foreign investors have capitalized on our weakness in feeding ourselves and mass fortunes in our own yard. Politicians have line their pockets with dubious monopolies to investors, who had chosen profit over the plights of our people. During president Taylor inaugural speech in 1997, one of his best line: ” the Liberian people will seek a ‘South-South policy, meaning, we can give our raw materials, in exchange for technology “. We can see the achievement our color and brown brothers in Asia have made over the last 60 years, because most, if not all of our rice, are imported from Asia. Specifically Burma (Myanmar), Thailand India etc.

    In conclusion, we Africans/Liberians, can made such progress, or even pass that mark. There is a Chinese saying: a ten thousand mile journey, starts with the first step. Our Asians brothers went through the same colonialism and imperialist dominations. Not how often you fall, but how fast you get up and dust off and keep moving. Let no Liberian be angry with me people, I love my country, therefore I m a concern whistle blower.

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