By Emmanuel wise Jipoh
There is an emerging scarcity of rice again, Liberia’s staple on the market with consumers across Monrovia complaining that they are being coerced by distributors to purchase other assorted items before buying a 25kg bag of rice, despite previous assurance from President George Weah that there would no shortage under his administration.
Wholesalers here complain of increased tariffs on the commodity, while retailers point to difficulties in having access.
Suppliers are reluctant to sell to retailers, because of what they term huge tariffs or percentages imposed by the government on the country’s staple food.
Major suppliers, including SWAT, Fouta, and Fouani Brothers are now demanding wholesale customers to purchase other commodities like battery, oil, and onion before they buy consignment which is still at a retail price of US$13.50 or an equivalent of LRD 2,025 per bag, but with restrictions that and you must purchase at least 50 bags and above along with others basic commodities.
A NEW DAWN’s survey in and around Monrovia on Wednesday, 21 September at major distribution centers in Vai Town, Bushrod Island; Jacob Town and Paynesville, uncovered that retail price has increased between 2,700 and 3,000 Liberian Dollars per bag from previously LRD2,250 at the disappointment of struggling consumers.
Sabu Conneh, a wholesaler told the NEW DAWN that she was allegedly denied sale of rice at Foauni Brothers, only because she couldn’t purchase other commodities alongside.
“I only sell rice; when I buy the rice for US$13.50, I go and sell for US$14.00 just to get little profit, but now they’re asking us to buy other things along with the rice before we can be served, she lamented.
“And when I buy the rice, at the same time we pay transportation to carry and sell. Now they’re asking us to buy other things, which is difficult for us”, added Marie Flomo, another wholesaler.
According to her, suppliers complained of high tariffs, so they resort to pegging rice along with other commodities.
“K & K is not selling now, only SWAT, and Fouani are our main dealers, so we have to go by their order”, Madam Flomo continues.
The situation is the same in Paynesville, another commercial hub.
Alpha Barry, a local businessman in Paynesville told the NEW DAWN, he has stopped or suspended selling rice due to difficulties in getting the commodity, and hike in the price.
“I am not selling rice for almost two weeks now, because I can’t get rice to sell. If you go buy, they tell you, you must buy 50 bags, and I don’t have money for that one; even if I buy it, pay for transportation, and bring it, no profit. I sell for profit my brother” Barry explains.
The current scarcity comes few months after President George Weah approved US$14 Million to key rice importers in the country as subsidy for the continued availability of the country’s staple in the wake of high cost of freight.
The money was approved after importers requested an increment in price on the local market, citing a hike in the cost of freight for shipment of goods worldwide.
Between 2020 and 2021, there was a large swing in containerized trade flows, which was met with supply-side capacity constraints, including containership carrying capacity, container shortages, labor shortages, COVID-19 restrictions across port regions, and congestion at ports.
This mismatch between surging demand and de facto reduced supply capacity led to record container freight rates on practically all container trade routes, a situation that prompted Liberian rice importers to request an increment in the price of the commodity on the local market. They claimed the high cost of freight was hurting their businesses.
They expressed fears that there would have been a shortage of rice on the market if there was no increment in the price, something that led President Weah to hold a meeting with Rice Importers Association months ago.
In the meeting, which was attended by major importers, including UCI, SWAT, Fouta, K and K, and Fouani, President Weah insisted that government would not allow an increase in the price of the commodity and therefore, pledged his government’s commitment to underwrite the extra cost in the freight.
At the time, the President requested the ministries of Commerce and Finance to work with importers and experts in government to find out how much it would cost to cover the additional charges to ensure an unhindered supply of rice to Liberia.
However, investigation found out that without dealing with the experts and not doing a proper analysis of the issue, the Ministers of Finance Samuel Tweah, Commerce Marwein Diggs and Nathaniel McGill, then Minister of State, unilaterally imagined the US$14 Million figure.
According to documents seen by Journalists, rice importers are defaulting on meeting the one million bags reserved in their warehouses as required by government, while some have not even imported any consignment.