Japanese Rice Donation For Rice Security in Liberia: Chenoweth’s – Ambitious Project and Representative Alex Grant’s Concerns
The Republic of Liberia through the Ministry of Agriculture has put in place an ambitious agricultural plan to make Liberia self sufficient in rice production, sources have said. The plan which runs from January 2010 to 2012 is designed to benefit 100,000 farmers from five agricultural productive counties.
A researched document titled Proposal to purchase 1.2m metric tons of paddy seed rice over a three year period from local farmers is a strategic documentation to put Liberia in a vantage position to achieve self-sufficiency in rice production and reduce poverty in the targeted counties.
At the start of this project, hopes and expectations were very high among administration strategists and the leadership of the Cooperative Development Agencies (CDA) considering the revolution such a master plan would bring in the agricultural history and the economy of Liberia.
According to research, US$264,062,216 million was spent between 2008 to 2009 to import 431,646 metric tons of rice into Liberia to meet the demands of consumers. Not only has this figure been considered astronomical, the foreign exchange committed to importation is also considered oppressive to GOL foreign exchange reserves and could be avoided if Liberia develops its potentials to grow rice for domestic consumption.
Statistics revealed that 2005, Liberia milled rice production reached about 85,000 metric tons and 144,000 metric tons in 2007. In 2008, it leaped to 175,000 metric tons against a consumption of 400,000 metric tons. This means 225,000 metric tons was outstanding to meet demands nationally. According to a paper claimed to be prepared by Government, 250,000 metric tons of rice and other aid received amounted to about US$100,000,000. From US$25,000,000 in 1990, import cost to Liberia climbed up to the US$200,000,000 mark in 2008.
With these statistics, Government’s intervention was required to reduced or eliminate annual expenditure on rice imputation. To accomplish this, sources declared that Government developed a master plan that would reduce reliance or dependence on the importation of rice in the country for national consumption. As a strategic move, Nimba, Bong, Lofa, Gbarpolu, and Grand Gedeh counties were identified as production belts with 100,000 local farmers earmarked to supply paddy seed rice at a quantity of 1.2 metric tons from 2010-2012. Administration strategists and Cooperatives Development Agencies (CDA) were confident that finally a strategic plan had been developed and Liberia would soon be on its way to self-sufficiency in rice production.
The plan according to expert sources say that the Ministry of Agriculture would be the professional implementing arm while the Ministries of Commerce and Finance would be the disbursers of funds to purchase paddy seed rice from 100,000 farmers in the identified belts through transfers to commercial banks located in the five counties. A pay team comprising the Central Bank and Finance Ministry employees would directly pay to the farmers. The scheme allows that the General Auditing Commission audits the accounts periodically to ensure strict compliance.
Apparently the lack of evidence that the project is being implemented and the alleged pumping in of funds each year from the Japanese Government Food Aid to Liberia in the amount of US4.2m and Government’s own input of US$1million annually along with the absence of the project in the annual reports of the Ministry of Agriculture and that of the Ministry of Commerce has led to a whistle blowing efforts by Grand Gedeh Representative Alex Grant through a letter to the Honorable Speaker of the House for the attention of Plenary dated June 6, 2012 urging the body to invite the Ministers of Agriculture, Commerce, Finance, GAC and the Central Bank to provide clarification on the project and why their annual reports have no mention of it.
In his communication, the Law maker draws the attention of his colleagues to the 1979 rice riots under the administration of Honorable Chenoweth as Agriculture Minister during the Tolbert’s Government. Honorable Grant alludes in his letter that strikingly the master rice sufficiency plan has been developed by the same Chenoweth as the Agriculture Minister and fears that the un-holistic implementation of the project and the silence of legislators would be a violation of their constitutional responsibility to provide effective oversight.
The Honorable Representative has therefore requested his colleagues in that letter to reject the ministry’s annual report until clarification is given on the status of the project in the report. He further indicated that from administration to administrations, the issue of rice production for self-sufficiency has always come in fine blueprints that swallowed up so much needed public funds without the expected results. Hence, the need to ensure that funds pumped into this recent project is given justification. According to Grant’s, letter there are no indications that the GAC has conducted any audit and wonders why the conspicuous silence on the project when this year is the targeted year for results.
This columnist contacted the Minister of Agriculture through a call but was unsuccessful as she was in meeting with the Internal Affairs Minister. A follow-up text message proved futile. On the whole, this project, if in existence as the Grant’s letter indicate and fully accomplished, Liberia would be revolutionized and indelible footprints would be left in the sands of time by President Sirleaf. Food security especially rice is a long due national emergency and must be priority amongst priorities.
When contacted, it appeared to be a shock to Honorable Grant that the contents of his letter have become public knowledge. Thanks to the freedom of Information Act. However, he could not confirm nor denied. Our research shows that the Honorable Representative did work with the CDA on the implementation of the project. The Honorable Speaker’s office also claimed not to know if such communication has been written by Honorable Grant. However, sources close to the Representative said that the first letter was written before the Easter break. The June letter makes it the second communication sent by Grant. According to House sources, more evidence of the existence of the project and funds expended so far is being gathered before the letter is presented to plenary.
Honorable Florence Chenoweth is Liberia’s foremost Agricultural specialist and expert with vast experience nationally and internationally. As a young bureaucrat and deputy Minister of Finance under James T. Philips during the Tolbert’s administration, she performed with credibility and was preferred as Minister of Agriculture.
During her tenure, she supervised the entry of Liberia’s first sugar company and designed a rice sufficiency policy that was politically exploited by the opposition which led to the 1979 rice riots in Liberia. This latest program, if implemented, Minister Chenoweth will go down in history as the best minister Liberia has produced. From a controversial name in Liberia’s politics over rice, she would be an adored name and respected public official whose policies saved Liberia from reliance on rice importation.