Pro-Poor Rice is not sustainable

The Weah Administration, like several previous administrations before it believes subsidizing rice importation is the prudent way to maintaining food security in the country, but this strategy is foolhardy, because it has never been sustainable.

The late President William R. Tolbert, Jr. ventured into it and his government got entangled in citizens’ protest that dragged it into the April 14, 1979 Rice Riot characterized by insecurity, anarchy and deaths. Slain President Samuel Kanyon Doe, guided by experiences from the rice riot, launched and spearheaded the Green Revolution that saw Liberia’s food basket swelled with exportation of cash crops such as cocoa and coffee, among others.

In partnership with Lebanese businessman George Haddad, jailed former President Charles Ghankay Taylor maintained rice on the local market at affordable price, and created the impression that he had solved the nation’s food insecurity problem. But that was very far from reality. Former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf brought in best qualified and experienced agriculture technicians, who only talked the talk and wrote policy papers; nothing else.

All three former presidents were fully aware that rice is Liberia’s staple. But they sought quick fix solutions except for President Doe, who took the bull by the horn thru his Green Revolution campaign that led to government officials investing in farms. A farm of the late Senator Kerkula B. Kpoto of the Doe regime was never fully harvested due to its large size and the civil war.

Despite leading a vague slogan of ‘power to the people’ President Weah seems to be seeking the same quick fix solution by importing rice rather than prioritizing the agricultural sector. Immediately after he took office early this year, the President met with importers in the country and struck a deal to reduce price, but it did not work due to the fact that we don’t grow our staple ourselves.

Now the government has established partnership with a so-called private importer, TRH Trading, working in collaboration with the Ministry of Commerce and Industry to import rice and sell at a reduced price of US$950 and US$10, respectively below the current price of US$17.

President Weah himself went at the Bong Mines Pier near the Freeport of Monrovia on Bushrod Island last week and launched the Pro-Poor Rice with an initial consignment of 80,000 25kg bags already in country.

“We are now happy. When I took over, our people were on the streets because the rice was expensive and I called all rice importers to find a way around the issue and to let them know they need to do their best to reduce the price or government will compete”, the President asserts.

The government’s intervention looks like nothing but the same old “cow pupu” story that appears dried on the surface, but inside is watery. How long can this partnership sustain the Pro-Poor Rice on the market is the “61 million dollar question” everybody is asking.

We believe strongly that the real solution to our insatiable taste for rice is to grow rice ourselves. Any intervention apart from growing what we eat as a people is temporary, because we don’t control the market outside our borders.

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