Starting with the Tubman administration in the early 1960s, the Liberian government has been encouraging the Gbedin people to grow rice, which they seem to be good at and are interested in doing. At the time, rice experts from the Republic of China (Tiawan) came regularly to help Gbedin rice farmers.
More recently, scarcely nine months ago, it was the Lofa rice farmers who said they had grown one million metric tons of rice and could find no buyers.
John Selma, Voinjama’s dynamic and visionary rice farmer, did not only grow his own rice, he motivated many other farmers to do the same; and believing in him, they got to work and produced lots of rice.
Alas, when the rice was harvested, Selma and his fellow farmers could find no buyers! This newspaper appealed to the new Agriculture Minister, Moses Zinnah, to intervene immediately to ensure that the Lofa farmers sold their rice. We further appealed to the Liberian government to encourage rice importers to set aside some of the millions of dollars they spend importing rice to buy the Lofa farmers’ rice. The government reacted positively, but we do not know what happened. Selma and his fellow farmers are still struggling to sell their rice.
Our agriculture correspondent Gloria Tamba recently reported that Selma and his fellow rice farmers had received a pledge of support from the Liberia Agriculture Development Authority (LADA). Selma told Gloria he would use the funds to buy processing equipment, including milling machines to help him and the other farmers to add value to their rice, then put it on the market.
How belatedly, however, Gloria said they expressed fear that some of their rice had already begun to spoil. For true? Can we rice-starved-and-dependent Liberians afford to allow one grain of rice to spoil?
And now look what is happening to our Gbedin rice farmers—250,000 tons of rice produced and no buyers. Just last week President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s Cabinet issued what they called a “performance report on the agricultural sector.” Again, Hamlet’s “Words, words, words.”
Where were the specifics in the Cabinet “Performance report?” Where was the report on poultry and eggs, for which we spend millions of United States dollars importing each year? Where was the “performance report” on meat production? Or is this sector, too, non-existent? What did the “performance report” have to say about fisheries and vegetable production?
Alas, where was the “performance report” on the national staple, RICE, on which we annually spend over US$200 million importing? Speaking of rice, the President recently issued an executive order to waive duties on imported rice, “to keep the price affordable for ordinary Liberians,” she said. What duty free privileges for imported rice, when we have all this locally grown rice WASTING around the country?
Yet, the government and all of us ordinary Liberians are crying daily because of the absence of foreign exchange that has the prices of everything, including all the food we must import, skyrocketing.
What kind of government is this that refuses to focus on the things that matter most to the people—food, especially our staple, RICE.
Does the government want Liberia to become self-sufficient in rice, given only a token mention of it in the so-called “Cabinet Performance Report on the Agricultural Sector”?
Ellen was right here in Monrovia when the April 14 Rice Riots happened. President William R. Tolbert had recalled her from the World Bank to become Finance Minister. She knows ALL about the sensational and sentimental issue of rice and the Liberian people. And yet, after nearly 11 years in power, what has she done to make Liberia self-sufficient in rice?
Now here we are with the Gbedin farmers joining their Lofa colleagues crying for markets to sell their rice; and there are, again, no buyers! And ever since last Thursday, when the Daily Observer published our Nimba Correspondent Ishmael Menkor’s report of the Gbedin rice farmers’ lamentation, we have heard not a word from the Agriculture Ministry.
Agriculture Minister Zinnah, where are you?
We urge you to take three actions right away: First, go to Gbedin today, behold the rice farmers’ plight and do something immediately to help get their rice to the market.
Second, call Commerce Minister Axel Addy and you both tell the President to compel the rice importers to buy the Gbedin and Voinjama rice.
Third, go to Lofa and find John Selma and his fellow rice farmers and see how they are doing with planting more rice, to ensure that they have not gotten discouraged, but are maintaining their planting momentum. Do the same for the Gbedin rice planters.
We urge the GOL to take our rice farmers more seriously. Do not depend on “foreign partners” and NGOs alone to help our farmers, for you do not know them, neither their intentions nor motives. GOL must take personal responsibility to ensure that all our farmers have ready markets for their produce.