There are two places rice can grow in Liberia: upland, and in the swamps or lowlands, both of which Liberia has in abundance. But more importantly, we have hundreds of thousands of people throughout the country who can grow rice; and that is what most of them do for a living. It is said that 80% or more of our people earn their living from farming.
So why aren’t we feeding ourselves in rice?
Someone has said that the Liberian government is more interested in finding money to import rice than finding money to empower farmers to grow rice. How can the Agriculture Ministry (MOA) respond to this charge?
The best way to respond is by developing a carefully conceived strategy to reach out to rice farmers. The strategy must first target farmers who are most productive in rice cultivation, such as those in Bong, Lofa, and Nimba counties.
They should secondly be organized, trained and equipped with the tools, rice seeds and fertilizers they need to grow rice. Thirdly, they should also be specifically trained in swamp rice cultivation, which yields three times per year instead of upland rice, which is harvested only once a year.
Fourthly, the strategy should ensure the government’s provision of rice processing equipment in each rice-producing county, where the commodity can be processed.
Fifth, the strategy should facilitate the MARKETING of the rice. All too often farmers complain that they grow rice but cannot sell it because either there is no one to buy it locally or they lack the transportation to take it to markets where the rice is in demand.
What does all this mean? It means that the Ministry of Agriculture should put together a team of experts to work with productive farmers around the country in order to develop and refine this strategy and make it operational. The farmers need to be involved in its formulation because they are the direct beneficiaries, so they should be part of the formulation.
Once this strategy is in place and yielding the expected results, the Agriculture Ministry should reach out to the all the other farmers, beginning with those in the southeast, some 4000 of whom had been recruited under an OXFAM program to grow rice in the lowlands. Our reporter Judoemue Kollie reported last week that these farmers had been contacted, but had been waiting in vain to be mobilized for the project. The project was expected to train them in swamp rice cultivation but since nothing had been done, they were returning to the upland where they had been engaged in rice growing.
Once the southeastern farmers are engaged and trained in lowland rice cultivation, all the other points in the strategy should be applied to them, too.
The MOA would then be ready to engage all the other rice farmers throughout the country in the implementation of the proposed strategy.
Let us seriously try this strategy and see what it will do to improve rice production in Liberia.
President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and other government functionaries have always complained that the media are quick to criticize, without offering any solutions. We at the Daily Observer have always striven to do differently. Here again is one solution to end our dependency on the outside world in respect of this critical commodity–Liberia’s staple, rice.
These suggestions advanced by this newspaper are far from foolproof (perfect); but at least they provide a beginning. We pray that GOL will improve upon them and start the ball rolling toward self-sufficiency in this all important and urgent commodity, our national staple.