Was USAID/FED Setting our Rice Farmers up for Failure?

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We have an URGENT situation. Right now, Liberian rice farmers, especially in Lofa County, have borrowed money from Savings and Loan Associations (SALAs) to grow rice. As a result, thousands of tons of rice have been harvested.

The BIG problem: NO buyers for the rice.

The rice farmers are facing law suits from the SALAs, which want their money back.

The Agriculture Ministry has told the Daily Observer that it cannot rescue the Lofa rice farmers. Two tragic developments have resulted from this inability to sell the produced rice: First, the farmers could be dragged into court by the SALAs; second, the rice farmers are threatening to STOP growing rice! Can anyone imagine the grave consequences of this?

Here we are, so utterly and continually dependent on the importation of our staple, rice; and now that our farmers, inspired and motivated by one man, Joseph Selma, have grown a lot of rice in the Voinjama District which is unsalable because there are no buyers.

What a tragic paradox: Local rice has been grown to feed HUNGRY Liberians and there is none to buy it!

Does President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf realize that this spells failure of her agriculture policy, if there is one?

Think of all of the money Liberia spends each year importing rice. What has Ellen or any of us to say to the Lofa farmers?

We wish to say a word about the United States Agency for International Development – Food Enterprise Development (USAID/FED). USAID/FED has dramatically intervened in Liberian agriculture, starting with goats, cassava, vegetables and rice.

While Liberians appreciate this intervention, we wish to make a sincere and timely suggestion to USAID/FED: Make a long-term rice commitment, including harvesting, milling, packaging and marketing of the rice. It was the failure of USAID/FED to take all of these into consideration that has led to this crisis facing Lofa rice farmers. The question is why? Was USAID/FED setting up our rice farmers for failure? If so, why?

Yet we cannot blame USAID/FED alone. More specifically, the blame rests with ourselves, us Liberians—in particular our Agriculture Ministry, which signed the agreement with USAID/FED.

It is unthinkable that former Agriculture Minister Florence Chenoweth, who negotiated and signed the agreement with USAID/FED, did not think about harvesting, milling and marketing. What a tragedy, what a failure of administration! Unthinkable that this woman who was Agriculture Minister during the April 1979 Rice Riots seems to have learned nothing.

But just as the nation is facing this most embarrassing crisis in Lofa, the Chinese have shown up offering assistance to Liberian agriculture, especially in RICE and fisheries!

The President needs to ask the Chinese to fast track the agreement by providing some of that money to buy the Lofa rice AND airlift it to Monrovia. This will encourage the farmers to grow more rice and possibly diversify their crop portfolio.

But the Sirleaf administration must quickly realize that even if the Chinese agree, that would simply be a short-term measure. This government must show that it is serious about agriculture by developing a long-term, active and results-oriented rice policy by making serious and comprehensive plans for the growing, harvesting, milling, packaging and marketing of rice.

We Liberians must stop being so utterly dependent. We must realize that our country is so richly blessed that we do not even need foreign aid. But one inefficient government after another over the decades has made us continually dependent.

Let us WORK and pray that that we will be inspired in 2017 to elect a leader who will stop all this and set Liberia on the irreversible path to true independence and self-reliance in every possible avenue of national existence.

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