‘Plastic Rice’ Infiltration: A Result of Liberia’s Failure to Prioritize Agriculture

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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.

14 COMMENTS

  1. Are Liberians consumers being forced at gun point to BUY plastic rice or fake rice from RICE SELLERS? No, they aren’t!! So why all the fuss about Liberians buying “FAKE rice or Plastic Rice”???

    Look. Liberian consumers have a lot of POWER with their dollars. They can hold PLASTIC rice sellers accountable for quality of their rice!! If consumers STOP buying plastic rice, there will be no need for anyone to SELL plastic rice. The PLASTIC rice sellers would go out of business!

    But as long as Liberians consumers keep BUYING plastic rice, the SELLERS of Plastic rice will stay in business by selling plastic rice!

    Perhaps the rice addicts in Liberia could adjust their behavior and do what my courageous Mother did in the 60’s to make ends meet: When she couldn’t afford to buy a bag of rice to feed her five children, she didn’t call for a rice riot nor did she demand that the government make the price “affordable”, she simply fed us with Cassava with smoke fish!

  2. If counterfeit foodstuff like “plastic rice’ is on the market as the editorial says, it is a health hazard, and ought to be seized, destroyed, and the importers taken to court. After all, public safety doesn’t only mean law enforcement officers patrolling dangerous neighborhoods at night, it includes preventing such products from reaching the food chain, and market. That food safety happens to be of universal concern is evidenced by the US establishing a Food and Drug Administration. The FDA’s mission “is protecting the public health by ensuring the safety, efficacy, and security of human and veterinary drugs, biological products, and medical devices; and by ensuring the safety of the nation’s food supply….”

    As for the advice that consumers can boycott “plastic rice” or use alternatives, it goes to show how amazingly some smart people are likely to be flippant or apathetic when a potential harm won’t affect them. It is the same attitude that makes the Executive Branch, the Legislature, the Supreme Court, and higher echelons of state corporations don’t feel any remorse of conscience that their wages and perks consume a third of annual budget in a country without a major public library, reliable roads, effective healthcare system, etc.; or where most of the vast majority go to bed at night hungry.

    Yet, surprisingly, some Liberians are presently more interested in who’s running for the presidency with whom instead of Civil Society and other concerned advocacy groups coalescing their activities in order to have all candidates in the race for the Executive Mansion and their political parties commit in writing to stabilizing pecuniary compensations of those officials mentioned above. No wonder politician is the go – to profession in the last decade.

    Of course, the electorates should ask: where would the revenues/ funds come from to fulfill all these great promises in a country with growing national & foreign debts, constant budget shortfalls, continuing economic meltdowns, ludicrous tax giveaways and so on? Or are the downtrodden vast majority just going to vote for politicians and then go to churches and mosques to pray for God to change the hearts of the new political leadership? We don’t want trouble, folks; get written commitments from them so that upon taking the reins of power to urgently review a salary structure that’s certainly the most me – centered foolish action of this EJS – led dysfunctional government. That’s what politics for – voters’ welfare/ interests or that of the commonweal.

  3. Martin Scott’s point is well taken. However, remember that most of our people now live in the city and don’t have the opportunities, unfortunately, that use to be available. Where are the opportunity for “papa to come home with plastic bags’? – very limited.

    Anyway, this draws my attention to the useless NSA with bloated budgets and doing nothing meaningful besides tailing political opponents and jamming radio stations they don’t like. Instead the NSA should be on intelligence missions to address issues that threaten national security – including the ‘fake rice’ issue, bribery at the legislature, collusion within the executive branch, and all other threats to national security. This also include theft at the NDS because these situations create national security threats. Where is the NSA and its affiliates contributing to the well being of our beloved country?

    Is it qualification or commitment the issue at the NSA? or simply, people are just corrupt and individualistic and don’t care about national patriotism? I do believe when the downtrodden are lifted, those in the middle and the upper echelon will do even better economically, financially, and in every other aspect of our lives.

    Mr. Sirleaf (NSA) with all of your credentials, can you do anything to help close the loopholes that are threats to national security? This is a challenge to you during these last days of this administration because it is part of your mandate as the chief of intelligence of the republic since all other intelligence affiliates were de-incentivized by this govt.

  4. Mr. Moses, how do YOU know that plastic rice is a “health hazard” to consumers in Liberia? In other words, what EVIDENCE makes you think or believe that plastic rice is a “health hazard” ??

    By the way, did YOU know that, here in America, where the FDA’s mission “is protecting the public health by ensuring the safety, efficacy, and security of human and veterinary drugs, biological products, and medical devices; and by ensuring the safety of the nation’s food supply” that some people have died from eating ordinary wholesome foods like salmon or PEANUT BUTTER?? Do YOU want all PEANUT BUTTER and SALMON to be ” seized, destroyed, and the importers taken to court”??? I’m dying to hear your response!

    • M.S; the human body is not designed to consume plastic. Yes! Indeed, plastic is harmful if consume by human beings. If it is infact determined that there is such rice; as plastic rice on the market, it should be seized for public safety. Your question doesn’t make any sense. The key word is PLASTIC: A product that is harmful if/when consumed by humans or animals. Perhaps you should do some research on the chemical components of plastic, before you question Mr.Moses. For the most part, it is a matter of PUBLIC SAFETY. Syl is absolutely right…

      • Henry, first I’m under the impression that the “plastic rice” claim is a myth, that plastic rice would be more expensive than real rice, I also read that the rice in question was tested and found to be rice.

        When we talk about plastic being harmful it’s usually a reference to plastic bags and the like that can choke or strangle animals, not a claim of toxicity, small beads of most plastics would pass through the body and cause no harm, the main health hazard would I think be through the fact it doesn’t provide digestible resources, so causing malnutrition.

  5. Mr. Martin Scott, with all due respect, do we want a pathologist to confirm that some deaths occurred because the deceased ate “fake rice – reportedly made from a mixture of plastic and sweet potato” – before the authorities would take action, or isn’t the matter within their purview to nip such outcome in the bud?

    And for your challenge cum question “Do YOU want all PEANUT BUTTER and SALMON to be ”seized, destroyed, and the importers taken to court”??? I’m dying to hear your response!”; actually, Mr. Scott, there was such a case. On September 21st 2015, a jury in Georgia, US convicted a former peanut company owner Mr. Stewart Parnell and his brother for conspiracy, fraud, and other federal charges stemming from a deadly salmonella outbreak from peanut butter they manufactured. Both were sentenced to 28 years at the end of the trial, and even their company’s plant quality control manager, one Mary Wilkerson, was convicted on one count of obstruction of justice.

    Probably, my recommendation to seize and destroy are the same actions US authorities would’ve taken for discovered “faked rice”. Mr. Scott, when I say that my engagement on these issues has nothing to do with criticism for criticisms sake, believe it. The truth is that (Like commenter J. Mia Gbason correctly discerned) food safety involves national security. With Ebola and Meningitis disease in Liberia supposedly traced to food, our people ought to be vigilant about food safety. Thank you for taking time to initiate the conversation on this significant editorial – it shows you care despite the little flare of temper.

  6. Mr. Moses, Webster Dictionary defines evidence as “something that furnishes proof”. And I asked you to provide EVIDENCE that made YOU believe or think that plastic rice is a “health hazard”. But you say that “When.Ebola and Meningitis disease in Liberia supposedly traced to food, our people ought to be vigilant about food safety.??? Is that your proof that plastic rice or fake rice is a “health hazard”?

    Based on such reasoning, you should also conclude that Uncle Ben’s Rice and Aunt Jemina’s Rice are all “health hazards” in Liberia, right? I have to suppress the laughter here…

    By the way, someone dying from eating peanuts or peanut butter is far DIFFERENT from some dying from eating peanut butter CONTAMINATED with salmonella, as referenced in your posting! Those people were sent to jail for selling peanut butter CONTAMINATED with salmonella!!

    Here in Georgia, there was a 15-year-old teenager who died after eating a cookie that contained peanuts! Jharell Dillard, of Lawrenceville, Georgia, suffered a swelling of the airway and he couldn’t breathe after eating a chocolate chip cookie that contained peanuts. Paramedics rushed him to the hospital, but it was too late! He died. Sad story.

    But guess what? The manufacturers of the chocolate chip cookie were NEVER convicted of any crime! NOR did the FDA “seized, destroyed” products or took them to court! People in Georgia still eat chocolate chip cookies with PEANUTS!!

      • Mr. Freeman, I did some research, and here’s the result: According to Wikipedia, “Plastic is a material consisting of any of a wide range of synthetic or semi-synthetic organic compounds that are malleable and so can be molded into solid objects”!.

        So, are you saying that these “…wide range of synthetic or semi-synthetic organic compounds that are malleable and so can be molded into solid objects” are FOUND in plastic rice too?

        If so, then based on such reasoning, one can conclude that these same “wide range of synthetic or semi-synthetic organic compounds that are malleable and so can be molded into solid objects” are also found in your PLASTIC smile or your RHINOPLASTY—right, Mr. Freeman?? The key word here is PLASTIC!

  7. The Liberian government is always reactive. They only act when the damage is already done. The government has no strategic proactive plan in place to protect the citizens or the general public to ensure the safety, efficacy, and security of human and veterinary drugs, biological products, and medical devices; and to ensure the safety of the nation’s food supply. Moreover, ministries and agencies of government that suppose to enforce the public health and safety laws are on-the-take.

    Remember people, a secured and saved nation is made possible through community involvement in crime prevention. The purpose of community crime prevention is simple: to help you recognize your own vulnerability to crime, and reduce your risk by taking preventive action and cooperation with all members of the community throughout Liberia. Don’t depend on the government or the law enforcement agencies of Liberia. They are not proactive.

    This means the general public or citizens and foreign residents informed participation is crucial. Every member can help contribute to the safety and food security in Liberia by learning what you can personally do to keep things safe for yourself and others, how to report instances of crime or dangerous occurrences, and the best ways to secure life and property when you are in your neighborhoods or communities. We need to be proactive. May Allah save Liberia, ameen Yarabi!

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