MONROVIA – One of Liberia’s leading economists and rights activists whose advocacy in 1979 against the William R. Tolbert government increasing the price of a 25kg bag of rice from USD11 to USD15 sparked the infamous April 14, 1979 Rice Riots, Dr. Togba-Nah Tipoteh is now cautioning Liberians to come up with practical solutions before the rice problem turns into “an event driven by the rule of outlaw instead of the Rule of Law”.
Recounting a similar situation that Liberians faced in 1979, Dr. Tipoteh said the government of Liberia at the time was considering a proposal to increase the price of rice from USD11 a 25kb bag to USD15 a 25kg bag.
“In February 2018, 39 years later, the Rice Importers Association of Liberia appealed to the GOL to increase the price of rice because they were facing higher global freight on board (fob) charges and higher port charges at the local Free Port of Monrovia. According to the Importers, they made the appeal in order to prevent any rice shortage in Liberia. But the GOL reduced the price of rice from USD16 a 25kg bag to USD13 a 25kg bag, through the reduction of tariff and budgetary support, not wanting the price of rice to be increased.
“At the beginning of the second quarter of this year, the GOL displayed warehouses full of rice at the Freeport of Monrovia, leading the GOL to declare that there was enough rice in Liberia. But the Importers said that they could not get access to the rice. This reality of the lack of access to rice led to a rice shortage, resulting in a blockage of traffic for more than an hour near the entry to the Gabriel Tucker Bridge from the Freeport of Monrovia side. Although the GOL said that there was enough rice in the Country, the rice buyers and sellers said that they did not have access to the rice. With this lack of access to rice and the rising price of rice, a rice price that is already non-affordable to most people in Liberia, there is a likelihood that violence could break out from the frustration at hand. Not only has the price of rice gone up from USD13 a 25kg bag to USD16 a 25kg bag, two weeks ago, the price of a 25kg bag of rice is now USD20 in some places and USD22 in other places. The price of a cup of rice has risen from LD20 to LD120 in some places and to LD150 in other places,” Dr. Tipoteh lamented.
The renowned economist furthered that, at the level of the GOL, it was announced on radio on the morning of October 7, 2022 that 335,000 bags of rice would be in Liberia by next week, against the backdrop of the monthly consumption of rice in Liberia being 750,000 bags.
“A Legislator said that he had arranged for several truckloads of rice to come from Sierra Leone to Liberia in the midst of reports of the smuggling of rice from Liberia to Guinea and La Côte d’Ivoire. With all of the different reports, confusion among the people has set in and this leads to frustration that can turn into violence.
“This violence must be prevented. This is the reason for writing this Commentary to try to help people to understand the rice problem better to become motivated to take non-violent action through the Rule of Law in the drive to solve the rice problem now rather than later. The people who love Liberia must work together to use knowledge about the rice problem to motivate people to solve the problem,” Dr. Tipoteh enjoined.
A workable solution?
Laying out a roadmap to avert the ongoing and future rice crisis in a country that consumes the rice commodity but doesn’t have the capacity of self-sufficiency, Dr. Tipoteh called for a radical paradigm shift – from reliance on importers supplying the commodity and controlling its price, to direct government intervention.
“Liberia imports USD250, 000,000 worth of rice a year. The money used to import rice, especially as foreigners get the bulk of the money through ownership, can be used to buy rice for Civil Servants, as part of their salaries. This money can be used to buy rice for GOL school students under the School Feeding Program,” Tipoteh advised.
He said, with the focus on the buying of locally produced and owned rice, the local employment would rise, local production of rice would go up and rice price would come down accordingly, moving Liberia from the prevailing poverty generation system of the production of raw materials for export without the prioritization of Value Addition to the enduring system of poverty alleviation, where the electoral system would move from Unfair to Fair to elect only persons with good records.
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