Stakeholders in the agricultural sector of Liberia have expressed concerns over the government of Liberia’s inability to ensure prompt measures for agriculture that could keep the country food supply chains alive in the mist of the current Coronavirus outbreak, stating that the virus could create food crisis.
COVID 19 pandemic is a global health crisis that is already affecting the food and agriculture sector. In Liberia, many smallholder farmers are said to be finding it difficult to increase production and to access better markets due to health restrictions being imposed by the Ministry of Health.
There are now 14 confirmed cases of the virus being reported in Liberia with 3 deaths, and the government has announced additional stringent measures as ways to further curb the spread of the virus.
Mohammed Kamara, president of the National Rice Federation of Liberia, stated that the government should focus on providing more funding to the rice sector and introducing necessary measures to keep the sector alive in the mist of the health crisis.
Liberia imports almost 70% of her staple food rice from Asian countries to ensure food security for its 4 million citizens. These countries are also infested with the virus which poses a serious challenge to food security.
Kamara said the government making funding available to the rice sector to empower those various actors in the value chain is expedient during this crisis.
It can be recalled that the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning recently reached a cash collateral guarantee agreement of US$700k with Afriland Bank to boost rice processing and production. But Kamara has expressed frustration over delay in disbursing the money to the beneficiaries to enable them reach out to smallholder rice farmers.
“Since the signing of this agreement the government is yet to release the fund. There are many farmers who have informed us of more markets for paddy. We need the money so that we can begin the purchase to process for the domestic market,” he said.
Although he lauded the government’s effort, Kamara said more investment is needed to enable the country to mitigate the challenges so that it can not trigger down on the country’s economy.
“This is the time for the government to lobby with the international community to provide money for the agricultural sector to promote domestic production so that the country will not face food crisis. The Ministry of Agriculture’s role during this crisis cannot be absolutely limited,” he said.
Mohammed, who is also a rice processor based in Lofa County, said farmers are receiving education about the virus to enable them remain in production, adding that it is one of the best ways to make the sector alive during the crisis.
Robert Bimba of the Community of Hope Agriculture Project (CHAP) told this paper that though the virus scarce farmers, they should be encouraged to produce.
He said the closure of borders is affecting trade and making it difficult for farmers to access inputs and seeds, adding that this will greatly contribute to poor nutrition of the citizens during and after the crisis.
“A mechanism to access soft loan to smallholder farmers to cultivated more hectares amidst the crisis is significant,” he said.
“COVID-19 creates an opportunity for more investment in Liberia’s agriculture sector as the country may experience trade restriction on food like rice and others from Asia , Europe and America,” he added.
He told this paper that there is a need for the government to convene an urgent consultative meeting with stakeholders and development partners to discuss how the country can go about in strengthening domestic production during this health crisis.