By: Sylvester Choloplay, Lisa Diasay & Jerromie Walters
Liberia: ‘Jacor’, a famous word for hunger in Liberia is seemingly walking in street corners, communities and homes amid the scarcity of the country’s stable food, rice.
The struggle for rice has made market women and breadwinners including shops owners to sleep in the streets or at importers gate in search of the commodity.
It is reported that a cup of rice is sold at $200LD in parts of Monrovia and its surrounding. Far to reach counties are also facing the pinch of the rice struggle.
Many are afraid that a repeat of the 1979 rice riot is eminent based on the scarcity and reliance of rice across the country.
The Ministry of Commerce and industry after days of public outcry, issued a statement indicated that over one millions five hundred thousand tons of rice is expected in country between October to the end of November 2022 and at the moment more rice have arrived at the free port of Monrovia.
Addressing a special press conference on Tuesday, October 5, 2022, Deputy Minister for Press and Public Affairs Jalawah A. Tonpo said though there has been delay in the incoming of consignment of rice due to the vessel restrictions resulting from the safe notice issued by the National Port Authority on the 10th of August 2022, sufficient rice has been supplied to retailers to serve the general public.
The Deputy Ministry further noted that the government has been working with importers over the period to ensure that rice is sold at the stable and affordable price.
However, It was also established at the news conference that about USD$14 million has been given to importers for subsidy to ensure that the commodity is sold at an affordable cost.
At the same time, the Minister disclosed that inspectors from the Ministry of Commerce beginning Tuesday, October 4, 2022, were deployed on the street in order to visit the facilities of the various importers, and retailers.
Amid the government’s statement on the saga, many Liberians are skeptical due to the skyrocketing prices at shops willing to make sales. A 25Kg bag of rice is reportedly sold for US$30, a double jump from the previous price of US$15.
In the wake of the scarcity of the country’s stable food scarcity, several Liberians mainly marketers and buyers have expressed disappointment in the CDC-led Government for its alleged failures to settle the situation.
Speaking with Women’s TV -Liberia in Fiamah Market District #9, Montserrado County, marketers and buyers including street vendors said based on the huge price of rice, they have resulted to buying different food items including gari, cassava, for replacer.
“No rice in the country; we are finding it difficult to even see a cup of rice. Therefore, we are buying cassava, gari, fufu, and plantain” instead of rice because prices of rice are very high”.
Even this morning l ate 140 Liberian Dollars ‘dugnuts” because I used to eat 200 cookbowl per day, but since those who used to sell cookbowls some of them cannot find rice now I prefer eating dugnut’’, a motorcyclist told Women’s TV – Liberia in Fiamah.
Speaking in an angry mood, a group of marketers at the Fiamah Market predicted that if the issue of rice cannot be settled, there would be chaos and increased starvation in the country. They explained that their children are going to bed without food, a situation they said cannot be tolerated if it continues in the next few weeks or months.
“George Weah, we want rice, George Weah, we want rice, no rice no voting, no rice no voting. President Weah, we love you but don’t play with our rice. If you don’t want problem, please make sure that we have rice in the country or else, you will have yourself to be blamed. If there is no rice in the country, we will go live with you and anything you eat we will eat too. Now, we are eating gari, because if you are lucky to see a sama cup of rice, it is either 150 or 200 (LD). George Weah, please bring our rice”, Angry marketers and buyers tell reporters in Monrovia.
But, President George Weah has since rejected the news of rice scarcity on the Liberian market, saying it is street talk, but the reality on ground has proven different.
President Weah, in a remark, from the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) on Sept. 26, 2022 said, “We need not to just listen to the street talks. So, I listened to them (rice importers).
Last week, hundreds of people stood at Fouani Brothers in Vai Town, in long queues to secure rice supply. This has been a general scene across Montserrado County – the most populated county in the country.
Currently, Liberia’s poverty rate is about 50.1 percent of the population, according to the World’s recent report, with extreme poverty on the increase at 16 percent; individual living on one dollar a day.
Recently, on September 28, 2022,the leadership of the House of Representatives leadership held a day-long meeting with rice importers and other functionaries from the Executive over the shortage of rice in the Liberian market.
The importers told members of the House that there is rice in the country and it could last for up to November this year, contrary to what is being seen today.
The importers namely: K&K Corporation, United Commodities Inc (UCI), and Supply West Africa Trading (SWAT) attended the meeting.
Meanwhile, the latest report coming in says the Chairman of the House of Representatives’ Committee on Commerce reveals that the Liberian Government is working on a contingency plan for the importation of over one million six Hundred Thousand 25kg bags of rice to deal with the rice crisis in the Country.
Representative Samuel Kogar, speaking to Legislative Reporters Monday, October 3, 2022, said the process will take up to a week for the modalities to be finalised.
The Nimba County District #5 Lawmaker said he visited various warehouses of the major Importers on Monday and saw considerable quantity of the Country’s staple food, but according to him, another consignment is being off loaded at the Free Port of Monrovia by one of the suppliers.
Representative Kogar believes some Businesses in the Country are deliberately hoarding the commodity at the expense of the consumers.
He warned those in the habit to desist as fines will be imposed on anyone caught in the act of profiteering the Country’s staple food (Rice).
With this, the public now looks forward to the Liberian Government, especially the Ministry of Commerce and Industry to tackle the current crisis in the country.
However, a July 2020 USAID report further established that Liberia is highly dependent on imported staples (especially rice), while Seventy percent of rice consumed in Liberia is imported making the Liberian table vulnerable to global market price shocks.
According to the report, (Liberia’s Food Security), approximately 18% of Liberian households were identified as moderately to severely food insecure in Liberia’s last comprehensive food security assessment in 2018.
The report also shows low local agricultural productivity – Limited availability of agricultural inputs, mechanized equipment, financial capital and extension services as
key drivers of food insecurity in Liberia.
Additionally, the 2021 Global Hunger Index classifies Liberia’s level of hunger as ‘serious’. Liberia ranked 110 of 116 countries on hunger conditions.
On the other hand, a May 2022 Food and Agriculture Organization Alert indicated that Food insecurity at unprecedented levels in most coastal and Saharan countries.