Two major rice importers are said to be at the forefront of a partnership aimed at integrating locally-grown rice into their supply chains. The partnership is spearheaded by USAID’s Food and Enterprise Development (FED) project, along with the Ministry of Agriculture, and the rice importers – Supplying West Africa Trader (SWAT) and United Commodities, Incorporated (UCI).
The partnership, when executed successfully, could be a heroic rescue for local farmers in Lofa County and elsewhere who last year took considerable loans to double their harvests from previous years, only to be stuck with many tons of harvested rice inventory and no buyers. The Daily Observer reported yesterday that over 150 farmers in Lofa County were threatened by court action for failure to repay the Village Savings Loan Association for financing acquired to expand their farms.
According to FED Rice Value Manager, K. Eric Yeasu, when completed, there will be a processing center where most of the work will be done for the local farmers.
“Currently, FED is assisting farmers in many parts of the country to provide both technical and material (agriculture inputs) support, especially in the areas of vegetables, cassava, animal husbandry and rice production,” says Yeasu. “At present, USAID-FED is working in six of the 15 counties on a ‘large scale’ where they will also make use of the warehouses in those counties.”
The warehouses, Mr. Yeasue said, will also help the rice importers to store the product locally, adding, “Not only that, but also will ease the burden of farmers transporting their produce to Monrovia and other nearby cities.”
Mr. Yeasue said that to support the rice value chain, USAID-FED has supported 50,000 beneficiaries from 2012 to present, and there are plans to increase capacity to 60,000 by the end of this year.
“We provide technical way out for the farmers; teach them how to plant; how to increase their yields as well as do testing of the soil to know the type of nitrogen on the ground,” Mr. Yeasu said.
With the level of work being done, he said, “we met with some rice importers in the country and two of the major importers agreed to buy rice locally once all is ready.”
He said as a way of helping the farmers, FED has been providing farming implements such as diggers, motorbikes, among others, to potential farmers.
“Due to the level of enthusiasm among the farmers, USAID-FED has decided to forge partnership for the importers to purchase rice from the local farmers,” Mr. Yeasue said.
Meanwhile, SWAT senior manager confirmed their readiness to support the partnership and would love to see it accelerated for the betterment of the country and its people. The official said “this chain of rice will help local farmers to integrate into our distribution network. We think this is good.”
An official of UCI, who did not want to be named, said they were excited about the project and would support it.