Commerce Minister Tarpeh Should Heed the LMA’s Plea—to Import Rice

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President George Manneh Weah did a good thing last week by successfully getting rice importers to reduce the price of rice by three and four dollars. That was a good beginning, though the rice retailers—those who sell by cup—contend that they are unable to reduce their price per cup due to the very high exchange rate between the Liberian and United States dollars.

We wonder whether the Central Bank of Liberia (CBL) can intervene here to ensure that the President’s move to reduce the price of the national staple benefits all, including those who cannot yet afford to buy even a 25kg bag of rice and must, therefore, buy their rice by cup. We are talking here about the really poor people—those for whom President Weah really meant to be favorably affected by the reduction in the price of rice per bag.

We reckon that Mr. Weah’s meeting with the rice importers to plead with them to reduce the price per bag, especially since there was a drop in the world price, was a gesture in furtherance of his “pro-poor” agenda. So we encourage the Commerce Minister, the CBL Governor and other stakeholders to hang heads immediately to ensure that the poorest of the poor reap the desired benefit of the President’s move. We have three more points to make in this Editorial.

First, that Minister Tarpeh and the government as a whole should support the wish of the Liberian Marketing Association (LMA) to enter the rice importing business. We have three reasons for this suggestion. First, to empower the LMA by enabling them to enter the import market and thereby gain the necessary experience, that could lead them to import other products, instead of leaving this major sector of business to foreigners.

Secondly, work with the LMA achieve a competitive advantage in the imported rice business. This means that rice consumers would get a break by being able to buy rice cheaper from somewhere—from the LMA. We earnestly hope that the LMA would support our argument for selling cheaper rice. Commerce and other stakeholders should welcome such a worthy initiative to benefit the poor.

Thirdly, we pray that the LMA has carefully studied the issue of rice importation so that they know fully well what they are getting into, and are determined to—and will make—a success at it. Our second point is this: In order to prepare themselves for such a major undertaking, that could catapult the LMA into a multi-million United States dollar enterprise, the LMA should SERIOUSLY consider RESTRUCTURING itself, so that it becomes less a top-heavy organization and more one that really carves a meaningful and dynamic relationship with the marketers on the ground throughout the country.

The LMA should engage some serious organizational consultants to help the body to engage in a constructive restructuring exercise. Thirdly—and this is our first time confronting the Weah government on this matter—PLEASE, MR. PRESIDENT LEND YOUR VIGOROUS, EARNEST AND SUSTAINED SUPPORT TO OUR RICE FARMERS.

There are many serious rice farmers in the country, especially those in Lofa, Bong, Nimba and Grand Gedeh counties. One of the leaders among them is John Selma of Voinjama District, who two years ago mobilized many Lofa rice planters and together they produced thousands of metric tons of rice. The Daily Observer named Mr. Selma the newspaper’s Person of the Year, 2016.

The LMA, working with the Liberian government, could enter a constructive engagement with Liberian rice farmers with ONE aim in mind—helping our rice farmers to market their rice. We hope that the LMA and the Liberian government can seriously collaborate on this worthy initiative to connect with Liberian rice farmers in order to empower them to market their rice more effectively and profitably.

If and when this is done, our rice farmers will be empowered to produce more and more rice which they know they can sell. Soon Liberia would be able to achieve self-sufficiency in the national staple.

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