Africa-Press – Liberia. As thousands of Liberians including local traders and consumers continue to struggle for rice in post-conflict Liberia, the Coalition for Democratic Change-led government of President George Manneh Weah is catching hell to find a sustainable solution to the situation which is imposing more hardship and hunger on and among the already impoverished masses.
For nearly two weeks now, the cost of rice, the nation’s staple food, has quadrupled.
A 25kg bag of parboiled, bela, and five stars brands of rice, which was initially sold for L$1950 (US$13) has astronomically increased to between L$4500 (US$30) and L$5000 (US$33.3) respectively in various communities in Monrovia and other parts adjacent.
The retail price which was L$35 (US$0.23) per cup, has increased to between L$100 (US$0.66) and L$150 (US$1) respectively.
In fact, the availability of the product on the local market appears like a search for gold dust in the capital.
Local traders are constrained to sleep and stand in long queues at the Fouani Brothers Corporation and K and K Incorporated on the Bushrod Island during the night and days hours to purchase rice for commercial purpose.
Citizens, particularly less fortunate Liberians, have been venting out their anger since President George Manneh Weah made a pronouncement that sufficient rice was in the country.
President Weah described as “mere street gossip” reports of the scarcity of rice in the country, stressing that there is sufficient food in the country to serve Liberians.
“We need not always listen to the street gossip. This is not the first time it has happened. Those responsible for importing rice say we have rice up to next year. I don’t believe there’s rice scarcity I believe there is rice. We will verify it again. Don’t listen to the noise in the street, ” President Weah when quizzed by journalists about his knowledge of the looming rice shortage being faced in the country.”, he stated upon his return to Liberia from attending the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) Session in the United States.
But on Monday,, scores of marketers in the densely populated district # 9 in Montserrado County, expressed their frustration over the situation in a live coverage published by Women’s TV on the social media.
“We want eat George Weah, We want eat George Weah, We want live George Weah, We want live George Weah, We dying slowly George Weah; We dying slowly; Cup of rice L$100; Cup of rice L$100, Bag of rice L$4000, Bag of rice L$4000; No rice, no voting; No rice, no voting,” the aggrieved marketers chanted while thunderously clapping their hands and knocking bowls together in the market building.
They are among several thousands of Liberians who are feeling the pitch of the scarcity of rice on the local market.
“We want the President to come to our aid because our children are dying slowly and we the parents, we are suffering. We expected the President to talk good thing about this rice business when he came from the US. We put him in there to speak and if he does not do it, he will not win the coming elections”, an elderly woman stated.
They vowed to besiege the homes of public officials if steps are not taken to reduce the price of rice in the coming days.
However, the Government of Liberia (GOL) has been exerting efforts to address the situation, through its relevant agencies.
The Ministry of Commerce backed by officers of the Liberia National Police (LNP), has been touring warehouses at various stores to ensure that the product is not being hoarded through the creation of artificial shortage.
What is the government saying?
Early Tuesday afternoon, the government, through the Ministry of Commerce and Industry issued a statement under the signature of Minister Mawine Diggs, claiming that it has been working with rice importers since its inception to keep the price of the commodity affordable for the Liberian people.
The importers of rice in Liberia include Foauni Brothers Corporation, Supply West Africa Traders (SWAT), K and K, Fouta Corporation, and United Commodities Incorporated (UCI).
However, these importers have consistently complained of losses as a result of keeping the price of rice stable on the Liberian market in fulfillment of a request made by the government.
In September 2021, the government commenced a program to partially subsidize the high cost associated with the importation of rice due to increase in “freight and other global supply chain issues.”
GOL owes importers US$1.5M
The government claimed that it has already provided US$14M to the rice importers in fulfillment of its promise to subsidize the price of the commodity for the benefit of the masses and the importers.
The amount of US$5.5M was budgeted in the Special 2021 Budget and the US$11M in the current 2022 budget.
But government is still indebted to the importers in the tone of US$1.5M as subsidy.
It remains unclear why the government is delaying in providing the remaining fund to the importers with less than three months to the expiration of the current fiscal year.
Delay of new consignments
The Ministry of Commerce admitted to delays in the incoming consignments of rice due to “vessel restrictions resulting from the safe notice issued by the National Port Authority on August 10, 2022.”
It, however, claimed that “sufficient rice” has been supplied to retailers to serve the general public.
Meanwhile, the government has blamed the current situation in Liberia to “high regional pricing of rice above the price in Liberia.”
It added that the situation has placed “significant pressure on the buffer stock in Liberia.”
“Hence, this price discrepancy has given retailers the incentive to hoard rice in order to sell across the border for the sake of profiteering.”
Current stock can serve market?
The government assured the public that the current stock of rice in the country, “can serve the market up to the arrival of the next vessel which is expected in the coming days.”
Despite this professed commitment, the availability of rice in various stores, shops, and marketplaces in Liberia remains scarce.
“As a result, we call on the public to remain calm and refrain from panic buying and retailers to desist from the hoarding of the commodity,” the government added
The government pointed out that beginning mid-October to early November of this year, subsequent supplies of rice totaling 150,000 metric tons will be in the country which will supply the market up to the early part of next year.
It stated that the consignment is in addition to the 22,000 metric tons expected in the coming days.
“We therefore encourage businesses to continue to carry out unrestricted sale of rice, void of price hiking and profiteering at the expense of the ordinary people. Inspectors of the Ministry of Commerce and Industry along with national security apparatus will not hesitate to take actions where necessary against anyone caught in violation while closely monitoring activities in the market.”
“The Government of Liberia remains committed to its Pro-Poor Agenda by ensuring rice and other essential commodities remain available and affordable.”
No immediate solution
The latest statement released by the government did not go down well with some Liberians.
According to Abdullai Mamey, the release from the Ministry confirms further that President Weah lied when he said “we have enough rice that can last until January 2023. The release also signals lack of immediate solution, and exposes the Minister’s incompetence.”
“The Minister says “Sufficient rice is in the country”. She provides NO QUANTITY! The Minister says, “Rice will be here in the coming days”. She provides NO SPECIFIC date! She seems confident that rice will be in the country mid-October and November than the “coming days” she mentioned.”
Mamey observed that the government failed to clearly state the quantity of rice in the country and the average weekly/monthly demand for rice in the Liberian society.
“Our people can be assured only if the quantity in stock is equal to or more than average weekly/monthly demand. That is, we have more than or equal to what we need for this week or month.”
“Either the Minister does not have those numbers (which exposes the magnitude of her incompetence) or she has the numbers and does not want to release them because doing so will further confirm the shortage. These people should be packing to leave by now!”
However, citizens will continue to mount more pressure on the government to do the right things in partially subsidizing or keeping the price of rice on the market at an affordable price for the less fortunate and ordinary citizens.
Since they were greeted with news of the scarcity of rice on the local market early last week, Liberians at various street corners continue to measure the level of hardship they are encountering by comparing the price of rice during past and current Liberian governments.
The prices of other substitutes including cassavas, eddoes, yam, plantain, fufu among others are skyrocketing as a result of the scarcity. Fufu is another typical Liberian food made from cassava.