For a country that imports 60 percent of its staple food, rice, Liberia has an uphill battle to cut that importation to a level where it can be food sufficient, create more jobs and be able to export the commodity to other countries.
This was the major thrust of a workshop that was held over the weekend by the Ministry of Agriculture (MoA) and partners at a hotel in Paynesville, outside Monrovia.
In a bid to develop and implement plans for boosting the rice value chain, the MoA hired a short term rice value chain consultant, Dr. Chijioke Osuji, to assist in developing plans for the paddy aggregation and rice processing centers to sustain rice production.
Dr. Osuji initiated the Rice Strategy Workshop to enable stakeholders to provide inputs and agree on strategies for filling the gaps in the rice value chain to enable it to contribute effectively to the national economy and food security.
After a challenge to come up with viable questions and suggestions from which the MoA would come up with solutions, Agriculture Minister Moses Zinnah said that he spends hours each day thinking of ways to end Liberia’s dependency on rice imports.
“We don’t lack ideas, but unfortunately we spend close to 200 million dollars a year importing rice. We have to do something about it. What is holding back our ability to change this? Tell us what we need to do at the end of the workshop,” Minister Zinnah challenged the participants during his opening statement.
He said although Liberia lost a lot of mileage on its way to developing the agriculture sector because of its dependency on iron ore and rubber, the country, however, needs to move forward. “Guide us to know the steps by focusing on those things that could improve the rice value chain,” he urged workshop participants.
Giving an overview of the workshop, Dr. Osuji said there is a need to develop a vibrant rice strategy that will attract investment for locally produced rice.
He said that the major problem confronting Liberia’s rice value chain is the need to produce import quality rice that can reduce the demand for rice importation.
“There is an urgent need for the production of import quality rice from small scale rice processors. This will contribute to the reduction of the supply gap, while integrated rice mills are being set up to boost production,” he indicated.
The Economic Advisor at the Ministry of Commerce, Sayon Henry Yaidoo, said it is sad to note that food self-sufficiency is not confronting only Liberia but almost the entire West Africa region.
“There must be a reason why we are yet to achieve food sufficiency in the sub-region. So this gathering is very significant to help address the problems facing the rice value chain,” he said.
For the country to increase local rice production to reduce imports, the issue of financing the sector must be addressed.
Africa Rice country director Dr. Inoussa Akintayo stated that his institution is involved in supporting farmers to cultivate improved rice seed varieties for lowland and upland rice that meet market demand.
“Fourteen improved rice varieties for both upland and lowland are being introduced to local farmers and they are eager to multiply these varieties,” he informed workshop participants.
Meanwhile, some farmers at the workshop told this paper that although they are impressed with the Ministry’s efforts to stem the tide of imports and improve the rice value chain, they said that government lacked the political will to support agriculture to make the country food sufficient.
“We are thankful to the Ministry for this initiative but I think it is belated. Why should we be talking about a rice strategy at this time after many years? The government is allotting 3 percent for agriculture in the National Budget yearly, which demonstrates lack of interest for agriculture,” said David Suah, a farmer from Sinoe County.
For Jefferson Tokpa, who heads the Donkodan Farmers’ Cooperative in Nimba County, “there is no need for Liberia to continue to depend on other countries for food when farmers are willing to produce more.”
In an effort to come up with strategies to tackle key focal points the MoA is trying to address in the rice value chain, workshop participants were separated into four working groups that looked at: seed system management/input support initiatives; policy initiatives/credit and financing; rice farming systems and research; and value addition initiatives/marketing. At the end of the sessions, each group selected a representative who presented a report on their deliberations.
The workshop ended with Dr. Osuji making a presentation on the “draft strategy implementation framework.”