One of the major issues that is being taken lightly but has a greater security consequence in Liberia is the production, availability and the affordability of the country’s staple food rice, the chairperson of the House of Representative Committee on Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, Sahr Fofi Baimba, has said.
Rep. Baimba noted that if the negative history that the issue of rice has had on the Liberian public is to be erased from the minds of Liberians, the government must commit to the production of rice in the country.
Speaking during the System of Rice Intensification Anglophone Sub-regional exchange conference in Monrovia yesterday, Rep. Baimba said the “Rice saga or the Rice Riot of 1979,” which propelled the country to its prolonged civil crisis, might have been forgotten, but the situation that led to that crisis still creeps around.
He said the Liberian government’s failure to resolve this decade old problem will have a negative reflection. “From 1979 up to the present is a very long time and yet we have not solved this rice problem.”
However government spends over US$100 to US$200 million, over 30 percent of the national budget annually to fund the importation of rice, a fund that could be used to develop other sectors like education, roads and electricity.
“We are not yet able to produce our major staple food for local consumption and yet we are spending a lot of money that could be used to do other major national projects. We are still importing rice from countries than which we have better soil, vegetation and climate. What is stopping us from producing our own rice?” he asked.
He indicated that the government must begin to support agencies in the sector from a planning concentration to production, noting that the only crop that will catapult Liberia higher is rice.
In the agriculture sector, Rep. Baimba, who produced over 60 metric tons of rice on his farm in Vahun, Lofa County last year, said the government needs to at least be involved in rice production for the next two to three years and the result will be tremendous.
The Lofa lawmaker noted that the government needs to provide subsidies to farmers in order to increase their capacities and encourage them to do more in the agriculture sector adding that Liberia has a better soil for rice production than many other rice producing countries.
Speaking on behalf of Agriculture Minister Florence Chenoweth, the director of the MOA program management unit, Dr. Moses M. Zinnah, said “No country has achieved sustainable economic growth and development without getting the agriculture sector on the right track, because this sector holds the key to economic growth and development in Liberia.”
Dr. Zinnah indicated that the fact that agriculture holds the key to a nation’s wealth has been acknowledged by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf which is clearly reflected in the government’s flagship development agenda, the Agenda for Transformation (AfT).
He indicated that there is now a consensus among the leaders of what he termed as strategic ministries and agencies, including finance, commerce, Central Bank, the National Legislature among others, that agriculture is the main foundation for the transformation of Liberia into a middle income country.
“There is agreement that if we do not get the agriculture sector on the right track quickly, it will be very difficult, if not impossible, to ensure economic growth and development in the country.
“The oil sector, especially given the recent dramatic global fall in the price of oil, may not be the solution for achieving economic growth and development in Liberia. We need to learn lessons from other countries in our sub-region such as Ghana and Nigeria,” he stated.
Rice constitutes the major staple food in Liberia, Dr. Zinnah indicated. “We eat rice like a doctor’s prescription,” he added, further stating that though most Liberians consume rice for breakfast, lunch and dinner, irony is that though Liberians love this crop, “we do not produce sufficient quantities to meet our domestic consumption.”
“This regional SRI workshop is very timely. The SRI has shown that it is possible to increase rice production and productivity while being sensitive to climate change,” he noted.
Dr. Zinnah noted further that the SRI program has demonstrated a number of important advantages for assisting Liberia to meet its domestic rice production and consumption gaps, including high increase in yields from 4 to 5 tons/ha to about 8 tons/ha though the average yield per hectare in the traditional rice production is only about 1 to 2 tons/ha.
SRI increases revenue for Liberian farmers by about 50 percent above the traditional rice production system, he said. “It also improves soil condition by using organic matter and reducing the use of mineral fertilizers.”
The SRI also economizes on the use of fertilizers by 50 percent, though it is one of the most expensive inputs in producing rice in Liberia, he stated.