For lack of understanding of the global market and seeming unwillingness to accept unfolding reality, Liberians are yet to digest the increase of the retail price for a 25kg bag of rice in the country from US$13.00 to US$17.50 or an increment of US$4.00 per bag.
The Government of Liberia thru the Ministry of Commerce and Industry over the weekend set the wholesale price for rice at US$17.00, while retailers are to add US$.50 to each bag consumers purchase in the market.
Ordinary Liberians may see this increment in rice price by the government as abrupt, but it is not. For the past two to three years, the United Nations has continuously warned of a looming food crisis, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa. The writings have been on the wall for quite some time, mainly for us in Liberia, who eat rice, as our staple, but we don’t grow on a commercial scale.
President George Weah and all previous Liberian presidents had tried to play politics with the issue of rice in Liberia by subsidizing prices to have it available and keep the market stable. Sustainability of such subsidies has always been a challenge, as it is unfolding now in the country.
The sustainability issue has even worsened in the face of several externalities such as the current Russia-Ukraine war, the global Coronavirus pandemic, production and transport costs in exporting countries and heavy reliance on imports. Besides, Russia and Ukraine are two major importers of the world’s grain and fertilizers. Their involvement in war means the markets for these commodities are significantly affected.
This negative impact led the current President of the African Union, President Mickey Sall of Senegal to visit President Putin after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, to plead for access to food, including wheat, grain and fertilizers, among others.
Until this country can move expeditiously to invest heavily in the agriculture sector by growing enough rice to feed ourselves and perhaps export to neighboring countries, Liberians have no choice, but to adjust and cope with the current increment in order to have rice available on the market.
Liberians should also realize that President George Weah, who promised sometime in August or September that under his administration, there will be no increase in rice price, does not have a farm to feed the nation, but relies on other countries and importers to have rice here.
We have a choice: either to live with the current price increment and have rice in country to eat or risk a complete shortage that could see price skyrocket as high as US$20, $25, $30 or $50 per bag on the black market. This is simple economics (Damand Vs. Supply).
The current situation is not unique to Liberia. Many countries are going thru serious economic crisis, including food shortages. Next door Ghana recently, frustrated Ghanaians took to the streets in protest, calling on President Nana Akufo-Addo to step down because of unbearable hardship. In Sri Lanka few months ago, citizens chased their President out because of scarcity of basic commodities, including food and fuel. Liberians should stop complaining and brace themselves because the worse is yet to come.