By Naneka Hoffman
The looming global food crisis appears to have already hit Liberia in the wake of growing scarcity of the nation’s staple rice, on the local market despite the government here dismissing reports of shortage.
For more than a week, retailers have been scrambling at distribution centers in Monrovia for supplies that are not available or are being hoarded for eventual hike in price.
Rice is dubbed as a political commodity in Liberia and its shortage led to the infamous “1979 Rice Riot” that turned bloody in the streets of Monrovia and subsequently led to the overthrow of President Dr. William R. Tolbert, Jr. on April 12, 1980, by the military.
A 25-kilogram bag of rice is sold in Monrovia for between US$13 and $14 dollars, but importers are rationing sales with local retailers, particularly marketers complaining of discrimination characterized by running battles between police protesters in the commercial district of Bushrod Island.
On Tuesday, April 5, 2022, several market women involved in the retail sale of rice expressed their frustrations about the scarcity, issuing threats.
One marketer, Hawa Pawoo reveals that a 25-kg bag of rice is being sold for US$20 or an equivalent of 3,000 Liberian Dollars.
Madam Pawoo calls on the government to intervene and stop the hike in the rice price so that she continues her trade, reminding President George Weah had promised Liberians that under his administration, they will not be spectators in their own economy.
She wonders how does President Weah expect marketers and Liberians generally to survive amid the creeping economic crisis without upholding his promise.
Another marketer, Sadia Guha, a widow, laments that in the face of rice price rising to 3,000 LD, it has become worrisome in feeding her four children.
Mary William, another retailer says government should do everything to reduce the retail price of the commodity because it is the nation’s staple.
Madam William notes that President Weah prides himself as a God-sent leader that came to power to rescue impoverished and less fortunate Liberians, but things are getting worse in the country, ranging from economic, security to general social issues.
In a press statement issued late Tuesday, April 5, 2022, the Ministry of Commerce and Industry acknowledged that it has observed that RETAIL BUSINESSES are consistently increasing the retail price of a bag of rice on the market despite official wholesale price remaining at US$13.00 per bag.
“The Ministry of Commerce and Industry wants to make it crystal clear that the approved Government of Liberia’s retail price for a bag of rice is USD$13.50 and not to exceed USD $14.00.”
The Ministry notes that unfortunately, it is receiving reports that instead of the Government’s approved retail price of USD$13.50, some businesses are selling a bag of rice up to USD$22.00, saying “This is illegal, totally unacceptable and MUST STOP NOW!”
The authorities add that while in the midst of addressing concerns of global increases affecting the wholesale price of rice, they continue to receive reports that importers are refusing to sell to retailers and the general public something, the Ministry reiterates, is unacceptable and bears major consequences.
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Commerce and Industry discourages panic-buying, hoarding and selling above Government’s approved price, and warns that those found engaging in such activities will be closed down immediately and penalized.
It releases hotline numbers (0776512224 or 0886552058) for the public to report any violation.
Last week Thursday, March 31, the Government of Liberia announced that there is absolutely no shortage of rice on the Liberian market, and therefore cautioned against any form of panic buying.
The statement said the panic-buying followed a confusion that erupted on Tuesday, March 29, 2022, between rice distributors and some marketers following the reported refusal of distributors to sell their products. But the government emphasized that it has got enough stock already in the country, while additional consignments are expected. Editing by Jonathan Browne