Stakeholder Calls for Consultation to Improve Domestic Rice Production

Executive Director of the Community of Hope Agriculture Project (CHAP), Rev. Robert Bimba

The executive director of the Community of Hope Agriculture Project (CHAP), Rev. Robert Bimba, says there is a need for the Government of Liberia to consult key players, mainly the private sector, within the rice sub sector in order to find a way forward toward domestic rice production.

According to Rev. Bimba, the government, bringing together all of the different actors to know how much they can contribute in terms of production, will give an understanding of what it takes to invest in the sector.

Speaking to the Daily Observer recently at his office in Paynesville, Rev. Bimba stated that rice production is still at a low scale, so the government must invest more resources.

He said such an endeavor will help the government to identify the strength and commitment of the various actors.

“All we need to do is to bring together all of the different actors in the sector to know how much each is producing. The government will set a clear target on how much local rice can be produced through the different actors to ensure the necessary funding,” he said.

“If you ask the players how each of them can produce during the year and the cost benefit analysis associated with it, the government can find the money to support the process and ensure that actors are held accountable,” he added. 

The Reverend said such a strategy is being carried out in other parts of the world, including the Philippines, which he said if considered shall bring about competition in the private sector.

“It is not just enough to dish out agricultural inputs or monies in the hand of a particular entity to implement. If the private sector is fully engaged and supported individually, the rice sector will move forward,” he maintained.  

He said that there is a national rice development strategy for the country, but it is something that is currently under review by the Ministry of Agriculture.

“There is a rice strategy that is being reviewed. We are looking forward to seeing the outcomes of the new rice strategy document,” he said.

According to Rev. Bimba, the rice sector does not have a clear or realistic data on the contribution of the various actors on production.

He said that if the government wants to see Liberian rice replace imported rice, there must be a serious approach taken.

“It is time for us to take concrete steps, if we want to see Liberian rice replace imported rice. The Pro-Poor Agenda of the government addresses the issue of priority to agriculture which rice is inclusive,” Bimba said. “But we haven’t seen or known the percentage of rice that has been grown by farmers.” 

Accordingly, Liberia still spends US$200 million annually for rice importation to ensure food security. The country’s rice sector still consists of numerous challenges including limited access to improved seeds, inadequate access to mechanized equipment, poor crop quality and yield and limited processing opportunities. 

However, Rev. Bimba said it is being reported that Liberia has more industrial rice mills, but many of these mills are not functional.

“The government must make sure that these mills are functional to get rice on the market,” he said.

According to Bimba, another issue that confronts domestic rice production is marketing.

He said to improve rice marketing, the government must encourage the citizens to take interest in the consumption of locally produced rice.

“I think it is the political will that is lacking to get the rice well marketed. We need to ensure that Liberian rice is eaten at all workshops and national programs. Government needs to make it public every year the amount of rice she needs to buy,” he said.

“With the level of investment, local processors have the capacity to supply the market with the quantity of rice needed,” he added. 

He also mentioned that local rice pricing is something that the government needs to look into.

“One of the challenges is that the price of local rice is high. There is a need for the government to provide more subsidies to rice farmers. Processors as well should be given loans. This will help reduce the price of local rice to make it more affordable for the citizens,” he said.

He said the price of local rice is high because of the production cost.

The CHAP executive director further stated that there is a need to increase the cropping circle for rice production by improving irrigation structures.

According to him, the Ministry of Agriculture needs to ensure that lowlands that were once developed are reconstructed and cultivated to increase the production of rice. 

Meanwhile, Rev. Bimba is calling on authorities at the Agriculture Ministry to honor his request for the use of a rice milling facility in Grand Gedeh County.

Rev. Bimba told the Daily Observer that the facility in question, if taken over by his institution to operate, will improve the lives of rice producers in the county.

According to him, the industrial rice mill has the capacity to process more rice, but has not been put into use, since it was constructed by the Ministry. 

“The Southeast has a lot of lowlands and there is an industrial mill there that, when operated, can improve the living conditions of the residents,” he said. “Many people are not interested in farming in the Southeast, so food security is a serious challenge for the people. Therefore, our presence in that part of the country to work with the people will help improve their living conditions.”

Rev. Bimba stated that the government should provide the enabling environment to make Liberians in the Southeast engage in farming.

Rev. Bimba, who is one of the champions within the rice sector, is not the only person who has spoken in recent time about the improvement of the rice value chain. 

A few weeks ago, the President of the National Rice Federation of Liberia (NRFL), Mohammed Kamara told this newspaper that the government will need to invest not less than US$10 million within a period of 5 years to improve rice production and processing.