House to Inflate US$50M for Rice Production- Summoms MOA, LACRA to Proffer Solution

House of Representatives has resolved to invite heads of the Ministry of Agriculture and the Liberia Agriculture Commodity Regulatory Authority (LACRA) to proffer solutions to Liberia’s rice crisis.

The house reaches the decision recently following dissimilarity over a request by Montserrado County District #16 Rep. Dixson Seboe to inflate US$50 million into the fiscal year 2023 national budget to boost rice production in the country.

In his communication read in plenary on Thursday, he believes that “concrete action is a long-term remedy that will help us to be self-reliant on our most consumed staple food. It is without any doubt that we have the soil and available farmland to enhance this action as other nations across the world are doing.”

Montserrado County District #16 Rep. Dixson Seboe

Rep. Seboe said it was now time to find a concrete solution, beginning with his US$50 million proposal.

“We have cried continuously that the only remedy to our rice crisis is for us to produce rice in abundance… We must find the money in the budget; we cannot continue to say we want to grow rice and we can’t take the action to do that. There is no way can sustain the issue of subsidy to keep the price of rice down continuously.”

He suggested that the government can initiate a private-public partnership to make it proposal workable.

Nimba County District #8, Rep. Larry Nyonquoi

However, his proposal was greeted with different views. Nimba County District #8, Rep. Larry Nyonquoi said while a long-term solution to the age-old rice crises was paramount, the timing of the huge budgetary allocation was not appropriate.

“Mr. Speaker, I stand here to say that as much as I agree with Liberia making a frantic effort to become a rice-producing country to be self-sustainable, and even export, I equally disagree with the manner in which the Honourable man is proposing, for our acquiescence,” he said.

Continuing, he stated: “I want for this Honorable man to withdraw his proposal, and let it be accompanied by a well laid out plan that will be accepted. This is an election year; the money would go toward the election campaign. We want to be very careful with the minimum resources we have. As much we want Liberia to produce its own food, we need a well-planned program to get us there, not to put money in the budget overnight for people to run campaigns with it.”

He called for the proposal to be tabled until 2024, at which time the elections would have passed. He argued that the rice issue is a sophisticated problem that cannot be solved in a simple form; especially at a time Liberia allotted US$15.5 million for rice subsidy and that amount has not been accounted for.

In what appeared to be a back-and-forth argument, Rep. Seboe fired back and said the subsidy has kept the price of rice at US$13. He too accused his colleague of being disingenuous in his assertions by politicizing a very cardinal issue.

In an attempt to break the deadlock, Rep. Samuel Kogar (District #5, Nimba County), chairman of the House’s Commerce Committee suggested that the heads of MOA and LACRA should be invited to proffer a comprehensive long-term plan to address the rice problem.

His suggestion inspired Rep. Sampson Wiah of Sinoe County to file a motion inviting the officials to appear next Tuesday which was accepted by plenary through a unanimous vote.

Liberia felt the pinch of the ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine which has caused food shortages and an increase in major commodities prices. Much of October saw an unprecedented increase in the price of rice due to its shortage in the Liberian market. Retailers formed endless queues at the Freeport of Monrovia to get a limited quantity from importers and terms sold at a high price to consumers across the country.

At some point, the price of a 25kg bag of rice increased from US$13 to US$30. The situation reawakened fresh memories of the 1979 Rice Riot.

Rice, view as a political commodity took center stage in April 1979 during the administration of William R. Tolbert, Jr. when the opposition Progressive Alliance of Liberia (PAL), led by the late Gabriel Baccus Matthews and other progressives staged a violent demonstration that many historians believe led to the downfall of the Tolbert regime.

The protest was triggered when the Agriculture Minister, Dr. Florence Chenoweth presented a proposal to the Liberian cabinet by with the hope to increase the price of a 100-pound bag of rice from US$22.00 to US$26.00. 

In the eyes of Minister Chenoweth and her team, the proposal was seen as an incentive for Liberians themselves to produce more locally grown rice instead of leaving the countryside to travel to the city in search of urban jobs when in fact metropolitan employments were scarce, and the city was becoming overpopulated.

However, the proposal was construed by the PAL as a scheme intended to benefit Minister Chenoweth and the Tolbert family at the detriment of the suffering masses; hence the launch of the protest which claimed dozens of lives, damaged properties worth millions of dollars, and rendered the government unpopular.

Despite successive governments since 1979 making the ambitious agricultural plan and trumpeting the ideas of supporting rice production in Liberia as a solution to Liberia’s dependence on imported rice, more than US$200 million is being spent on rice importation with some US$15 million going to rice subsidy to stabilize the price.

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