The rationale of the emphasis regularly made in our editorials for government and Liberians to prioritize agriculture and to reduce over-dependence on imported rice is manifesting itself at a higher level. Besides the skyrocketing price of rice on the Liberian market, fake rice, reportedly made from a mixture of plastic and sweet potato, has surfaced. This manufactured rice first appeared in Nigeria sometime ago and was reported by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC).
Today, the Ministry of Commerce and Industry is dwelling on media reports to warn all rice importers to adhere to standards for importing quality rice into the country in order to possibly prevent the spread of such rice on the market. The National Standards Laboratory has gone ahead to test the Butter Brand White Rice with results showing an organic sample that has the characteristic of normal rice. The Commerce Ministry, in the wake of this circulating information, has gone further to inform commerce inspectors and LRA Customs Officers to alert relevant authorities including the Ministry of Health of the possibility of fake rice on the Liberian market.
Well, government is creating strategies, if it is true that this fake rice is indeed infiltrating the market, to prevent this product from overwhelming the Liberian market; but is it enough to institute a system now when we do not even know how long this product has been around, if at all? Is Liberia’s standards division effective enough to tackle this problem in this volatile economic environment of ours? We hope the mercy of God will save us from further health problems as our indolence leads us to eat anything we see and touch.
This is a country endowed with all natural resources that man needs to survive, but we Liberians and our government have resolved not to make use of one of the most important, the fertile land on which sun shines and rain falls almost on a daily basis. As government gives less attention to farming and other activities required to enhance food production and processing in the country, so are citizens complacent with city life and abandoning agriculture to live in Monrovia and other urban areas, feigning education, stealing in their workplaces and begging in the streets.
This culture has grown to the extent that even if a good and responsible government institutes a strict policy to compel everyone to concentrate on agriculture, voracious politicians will undermine it by polluting the minds of citizens with destructive ideologies. Liberia had this instance in 1979 when the administration of slain President William R. Tolbert increased the price of parboiled rice from $22 per 100 lb to $26. According to the Free Encyclopedia, Agriculture Minister Florence Chenoweth did that to add an inducement to farmers to stay on the land to produce rice as both subsistence and cash crop. Minister Chenoweth at that time thought that the step would help to motivate farmers to continue farming and not to abandon it for jobs in the cities.
Not carefully studying the pros and cons to constructively engage government, the so-called Progressive Alliance of Liberia (PAL) politicized the action and put people in the streets on April 14, 1979. The rioters ended up looting properties worth millions of dollars. The failed Progressives propagated information to the public that the step was meant to create income for the Tolbert family and a few others that were engaged in large scale rice farming at the time. Since then, rice has become a political commodity that every succeeding President either handles with care or faces fierce criticism and street protests.
Due to our dependence on imported rice, no leader has stepped up to the podium to reawaken the dreams of, or do a similar thing as Tolbert’s and Doe’s agriculture and economic policies: “The Total Involvement for Higher Heights,” or “Green Revolution.” The presence of these policies encouraged farmers to produce more rice and led to the forming of many agricultural companies including Bong County Agriculture Development Project (BCADP) and Nimba County Rural Development Project (NCRDP). Today, no attention is paid to people striving to invest in agriculture in Liberia; but instead, all eyes are on rice importers.
Being a people who don’t invest in what we eat is even contradictory to God’s plan for man. In the Holy Bible that many Liberians subscribe to, God, before creating man, made a garden that contained all kinds of fruits, vegetables, nuts, cereal, maize, animals, etc. He then made man to manage this garden and to eat all fruits, except one (the tree of knowledge of good and evil), which we cannot question. This indeed shows that the God Liberians worship attaches great importance to agriculture as the major source of food for mankind, but we prefer to disobey Him and rely on food produced by others for our collective survival.
Now that our dependence is inviting health dangers with speculation that ‘plastic rice’ is being imported and sold on the market, let the government take some measures to restrict the flow of rice and empower local farmers to engage more in production of our staple food and others. Let the government reduce taxes on agricultural materials and prioritize locally produced fruits, vegetables, maize, tubers and rice. Liberians on the other hand should now learn to restrain their appetite for imported rice and other manufactured foods from outside and give preference to what they can produce. We hope this will not be misunderstood as political rhetoric, but rather a piece of advice to save us from future danger.