The attention of the Ministry of Agriculture has been drawn to the Wednesday, January 27 editorial of the Daily Observer newspaper entitled “Was USAID/FED Setting Our Rice Farmers Up for Failure?” I wish to take this opportunity to address several factual inaccuracies you made. In particular, the editorial suggests that USAID/FED has not helped provide Liberian farmers with access to “harvesting, milling, packaging and marketing services.”
In fact, during the past three years, USAID’s Food and Enterprise Development Program (FED) has helped establish 10 community rice mills, with plans for nine more in 2016. These facilities provide the approximately 50,000 local rice farmers who benefit from the program the capacity for threshing, drying, milling, and destoning their rice crops, as well as storing and marketing them. When all 19 facilities are operational, they will have the capacity to process approximately 29,000 metric tons of rice annually. No postharvest services were previously available in the six counties (Bong, Grand Bassa, Lofa, Margibi, Montserrado and Nimba) in which FED operates.
USAID/FED has not only helped farmers with production and postharvest services, it has also helped create a market for local rice. Through links with FED’s farmers groups, one Liberian-owned mill, FABRAR Liberia, based in Kakata, procured 450 metric tons of un-milled rice valued at $180,000 from Lofa County farmers in 2015 alone.
FED has also helped strengthen the market for locally grown rice by establishing “aggregators” who trade in rice. In a recent editorial the Daily Observer hailed one such example, Mr. John Selma in Lofa County. Mr. Selma began growing his business with a loan from a microfinance institution to purchase paddy rice from farmers which he then mills and processes for sale at one of the community rice mills established with FED support. More recently FED has linked Selma with another financial institution to underwrite his rice aggregating business. Due to Mr. Selma’s successful rice enterprise in Lofa County, the Daily Observer conferred on him its “2015 Man of Year”.
The Daily Observer editorial also erroneously creates the impression of widespread loan delinquencies in loan repayments by farmers, especially in Lofa County. USAID/FED has helped established 723 Village Savings and Loan Associations (VSLAs) that provide loans for smallholder farmers to purchase agricultural inputs, such as fertilizers and high yielding seeds, or to otherwise expand their farms and increase their yields. Lofa alone has 150 of these VSLAs. The repayment rate among the 723 VSLAs is 98 percent in the six counties served by USAID/FED, including Lofa.
Our experience gained over the years demonstrates that the government of Liberia can best complement the work of FED and other such development partners and improves rice production and sale when it refrains from direct intervention in the market. Our main goal as a government and a people is to create an enabling environment that strengthens the private sector and taps the entrepreneurial drive of hardworking Liberian farmers.
Thank you for the opportunity to respond to your editorial and correct its inaccuracies. Going forward, we invite you to visit the many innovative projects that the government of Liberia and its development partners are undertaking in the agricultural sector to see the scope of our engagement and to confirm the veracity of information prior to publication.
Please do not hesitate to contact my office if you need any information regarding the agriculture sector in Liberia. We will provide you relevant information to enable you write your independent editorials regarding the Liberia agriculture sector based on facts.