Rice, A Potential For Wealth Creation
- Why President Weah should create a National Agriculture Corps
President George Manneh Weah of Liberia celebrated his first 100 days in office this week amid massive employment and increasing crime wave across the country. The new president has yet to share his plan for his first 100 days in office and beyond.
As the nation’s majority poor look forward to benefiting by the improvement of their living conditions during the implementation of the Coalition for Democratic Change-led (CDC) government pro-poor governance agenda, the verdict is out on the new government.
As the CDC-led government progresses with consultations and developing of its governance agenda, one key area that has the propensity to address the nation’s joblessness and bring about sustainable development in Liberian is food security.
The International Food Policy Research Institute found that “countries with very high levels of poverty and chronic malnutrition face limitations in human capital development, which is required to achieve sustainable growth.” Food security for Liberia means our ability to feed the nation’s four million population, which translates into better nutritional outcomes for citizens, especially school-going children, and a net gain for national gross domestic product through the expansion of its economic base.
This is where Liberia has a lot to gain through the investment in agriculture production, and most specially rice, the nation’s staple food. Liberia’s agriculture sector constitutes about 38.8% of the nation’s GDP and more than 70% of the population depends on this sector for their livelihood.
According to Rice Exports, global “Rice exports by country totaled US$19.9 billion dollars in 2016 down by an average -16.7% for exporting countries from 2012 when overall rice shipments were valued at $23.9 billion. Year over year, the value of global rice exports also dipped by -12.2% from the $22.7 billion worth of exported rice during 2015.”
The CIA factbook reports that Liberia spent “$1.247 billion (2017 est.)” on imports of foreign goods, including rice and other commodities. FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization) estimates that rice makes up about 80% of imports in Liberia.
A Liberian lawmaker, Fofi Bimba, who served as chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries, once estimated that Liberia spends over $200 million dollars annually on rice imports. However, former presidential candidate, Dr. Jeremiah Whapoe puts that figure at about $480 million annually.
“From a continental perspective, Asian countries accounted for the highest dollar value worth of rice exports during 2016 with shipments amounting to $14.5 billion or two-thirds (66.4%) of all rice exports.
North American exporters supplied 9.6% of global rice exports, followed by Europe at 8.4% then Latin America (excluding Mexico) and the Caribbean at 6.6%. African rice exporters was [were] responsible for a smaller percentage at 1.7%.” Liberia ranks as the 16th highest rice importer in the world in 2016. The CIA factbook and the World Bank back these statistics.
Now, just imagine the potential windfalls for Liberians if we were to invest massively in rice production, given the country’s rich soils and favorable weather.
Until President George Weah’s recent intervention to reduce the price of rice, rice price had increased year over year, while unemployment and poverty levels remain steady across the country. The average earnings of ordinary Liberians have also remained stagnant. Millions continue to live below poverty levels; children are starving; and thousands die every year from malnutrition as a result of poverty and their inability to afford medical care for curable diseases. Thousands of children suffered from malnutrition due to adequate food rations.
Again, Africa only accounts for 1.7% of an annual $19 billion dollars rice market. Just imagine the potential for wealth creation, given the soil and favorable weather conditions of Liberia and the rest of West Africa, if we were to invest in mechanized farming of rice.
We can learn from countries like Bangladesh, a former starving nation that has been able to harness its agriculture potential and is today able to feed its 150 million people. We can also learn from our African counterparts, like Rwanda; a nation that has turned around its fortunes after a bloody genocide in the 1990s.
We urge the CDC-led government to marshal a comprehensive national plan for an “agriculture renaissance” in Liberia, along with robust investments in the infrastructure sector in roads, electricity, and pipe-borne water; all ingredients for a vibrant economy.
I am recommending the creation of the “National Agriculture Corps of Liberia” (NACL) – a program, if harnessed, shall create opportunities for employment and wealth creation across the 15 counties and shall become an autonomous sustainable agency, while creating 100,000 jobs within the first five years.
The proposed NACL may be initially created as a semi-autonomous consortia comprised of financial institutions (banks and credit unions), local cooperatives, small holder farmers, UN/INGOs like BRAC, FAO, Plan, etc., and the private sector (like FABRAR, etc.), with financial and legal backing of the government of Liberia and international partners.
Within the first year, the NACL shall develop a comprehensive national strategy, draft policies and guidelines to govern its operations; recruit and train its first 1,000 NACL corps and officers; undertake a nation-wide aggregation of farmland; setting up of NACL cells in each county; initiate the procurement of farming materials and equipment; and the development of a sustainable partnership model that will solve Liberia’s food insecurity and unemployment debacles.
I am confident that with a clear mandate, guidelines, and support, the proposed National Agriculture Corps of Liberia shall become “the catalyst” that shall propel the CDC-led government (a government expected to work on behalf of the majority poor) in meeting its commitment and obligation to the Liberian people.
About the author:
Tamba Aghailas, an activist and founder of The Voice of Liberia, has dedicated his life to advocacy for refugees and disenfranchised citizens of Africa. He has written extensively on his country history and has dedicated his life to public service. To contact, comment or to request a speaking engagement, he can be reached via email at [email protected]