Rice Price ‘Too High’ in Rural Liberia

Deddeh Zaza, a businesswoman in Ganta, was shocked after hearing that the government has increased the price of rice, the nation’s staple food, from US$15.00 to US$17.50 at retail per 25kg bag.

“The rice price has gone up high in Ganta. I just bought a bag of rice for US$22.00.

The Liberian government recently announced an increase in the price of rice, but some businesspeople are selling the commodity above the government’s stipulated price.

“I am selling cold bowl and find it very difficult to feed my family. Whenever I buy a bag of rice at a high cost, it does not make me any profit. We want President Weah to put prices down for the commodity. Life has become very difficult for us,” said Deddeh.

A mother of four, Deddeh told the Daily Observer that increasing the price of rice is making life more difficult for many of the country's ordinary citizens, who barely earn enough income to feed their families. 

The impact of the price increase on her is two-fold. First, as a consumer, her personal income is significantly less than someone doing the same line of work in Monrovia. Secondly, the distributors bringing rice to Ganta have to include transportation costs as part of the overhead on the price per bag of rice sold in Ganta. So the real cost of imported rice is severely disproportionate between Ganta and Monrovia. 

The increment in the price of rice comes following consultations by the Rice Stabilization Task Force set up by President George M. Weah to derive measures for the availability of rice on the market. The decision to set up a task force for rice came in the wake of the acute shortage of rice in the country that lasted for several weeks. 

Liberia once descended into a civil crisis because of the arbitrary increase in the price of imported rice as a way to prioritize domestic production. And while the case for more domestic production of the commodity is more understood now than ever before, the country is still a long ways off from suspending rice imports in favor of local production. However, the shortage of imported rice in recent times has been blamed on external shocks such as COVID-19 and Russian aggression in Ukraine, both of which have seen the cost of imported rice escalate. 

“The economic situation is extremely hard for most of us. I am not working, and I find it very difficult to feed my family. So I want the price of rice to come down. The struggle here is very difficult for us,” says Sekou Siakor, another resident of Ganta.  “I have a family of five, and my wife usually travels to the village to buy bananas to sell and feed the family.” 

Siakor said during the recent rice shortage on the market, he had to struggle to get rice from Guinea.

Liberia spends over US$200 million on rice imports every year. In recent times, the Liberian government has appropriated US$11 million from the national budget to subsidize the importation of rice. But such an effort by the Weah administration is being interpreted as an apparent failure in the absence of a clear understanding as to what became of the subsidy. The Weah administration appears determined to keep the price of rice relatively stable, despite the global crisis that has influenced the price of basic commodities, especially food and fuel, on the world market. President Weah once said that rice prices wouldn’t increase during his administration.

“I don’t think that the price of rice is affordable,” said Sasa Gbor Weah, also a Ganta resident. “It is not even good to talk about it. The government needs to talk to the people to bring the price of rice down. Rice prices were affordable for us during former President Ellen Johnson’s administration. This government must see about the rice price problem, and this is the only thing I have to say.” 

Meanwhile, Montserrado County Senator Saah Joseph has said that there is a need for the government to revisit the decision that increases the price of rice.

Speaking on a local radio talk show, the Montserrado Senator said that the government must renegotiate with rice importers.

“I am asking for a renegotiation or a final conclusion for the price of rice that the importers want. I have not gotten any report about how the US$11 million was spent by the government. I totally disagree with the importers that the price of rice should be increased to 17.00. This amount is too high. We have an executive order that reduces tariffs on rice. Why can’t the people benefit from that?” the senator argued.

The senator said that he believes that the rice importers can see reasons to bring the price of rice down to make it affordable for the citizens.

“I represent the people of my county, and I travel into the rural areas and notice that most of my people can’t afford the current price of rice. The government has said that importers have been subsidized. I can’t understand why the price of rice should remain high for the Liberian people,” Senator Joseph said.

Agriculture Minister Jeanine Cooper, appearing before the Liberian Senate some time ago, said that it would not be advisable for the Liberian government to contemplate increasing the price of the nation’s staple food.

The Minister’s comment comes in the wake of some members of the Legislature contemplating that the possible means of addressing the rice problem facing the country is to support massive domestic production instead of continuing to provide significant subsidies for rice imports.