MONROVIA – What is being regarded as a swift move to ensure the availability of rice, the nation’s staple food on the market and measure taken to reflect the global reality were prices of basic commodity are soaring all over the world, the Government of Liberia through the Ministry of Commerce and Industry adjusted the price of a bag of rice which was hitherto sold at $13 to $17 and assure the citizens that the current stock on warehouses of importers will last for the period until the arrival of the more consignments in the coming days.
According to a press release issued by the Ministry of Commerce and Industry dated December 3, 2022, the decision to adjust price was arrived at after extensive meetings with the major stakeholders in the rice industry including officials of the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, the Importers and the leadership of the Liberia Marketing Association(LMA) where a collective perspective of the need to adjust the price to address the challenges of making the products available and affordable was tabled for discussion.
“Following extensive consultations with the relevant stakeholders, including the Liberia Marketing Association coupled with recommendations from the Rice Stabilization Taskforce, a decision was reached to adjust the price of rice in order to increase the importation volume, increase availability of the commodity on the market, eliminate unauthorized price hikes and deter black market sales.
The Government announces effective December 3, 2022 the following adjusted prices as follows: wholesale price for 25kg bag $17 or LRD equivalent”, the release said.
The release had earlier stated that over the last five years the government had continuously worked with importers of rice to ensure that the price of rice remains affordable for the Liberian people and available on the market.
As a result of the current global challenges faced with sourcing of the commodity, the President, H.E. Dr. George Manneh Weah constituted a Rice Stabilization Taskforce, with the mandate to assess sustainability of current intervention, explore all options and propose new measures necessary to keep rice affordable and available on the Liberian market”, the release further said.
The release concluded that the Ministry through its inspectorate will ensure strict compliance with the decision and call on the public to report anyone found selling above the government regulated prices, adding that the government is committed to its Pro-Poor agenda by ensuring rice and other essential commodities remain available and affordable.
Government sources further said over the weekend that the events in the global community such as the war in Ukraine that have disrupted supply chain of basic commodities and bad weather conditions in producing countries like India, Vietnam, etc affecting rice yields have taken over the issue of cost but what is paramount is the availability of rice on the Liberian market. The sources further said concern should not be the cost but availability of the commodity, stressing that with the understanding garnered from all the stakeholders all hands are on deck to ensure the nation’s staple is readily available.
While rice is seen as a “political commodity” in Liberia and there could be misgivings about it, pundits believe it is because successful government had allowed to be regarded as such since there have been any justifiable reason given why the commodity should not be subsidized but measures should be taken to free up the market for business people capable of importing the commodity to do so as well as government channeling resources spent on subsidies to investing in the agriculture sector to ensure massive production of the staple food for local consumption and export.
“This adjustment is one of the ways the government has demonstrated the economic will to save the government a huge cost and to think in the direction of putting more money into the agriculture sector to encourage self-sufficiency in food production. Besides, the government should do more by freeing up the importation space which, as it is, looks like a cartel that determines its prices at will. More importers will narrow the profit margins that will positively impact on the price of the commodity”, Paul Weezah, a local business in Ganta told The Analyst last night.
In the midst of the issues generated by the adjustment in the price of the commodity, The Analyst did an extensive investigation on the prevailing prices in the subregion and found out that comparatively the cost of rice in Liberia is far below what is obtained out there. A 25kg bag which will now sell for $17, the same can be purchased for $29.25 in Cote d’Ivoire, it is going for $42.86 in Ghana while it will cost a consumer $50 and $33 respectively in Sierra Leone and Guinea.
The fear being expressed by some pundits is with monitoring and enforcing strict measures as the Ministry promised because the price of the commodity in the neighboring countries can induce some scrupulous business people to smuggle the products across the border for more profit, thereby causing artificial scarcity that could drive the price upward.
“It has always been the case. Relatively the prices of basic commodities in Liberia are far cheaper than we have in other neighboring countries. And because of our porous borders and corrupt security at our border points, you find these goods going out there for more profits for the business people and we are at the receiving end here with artificial shortages that shoot up the prices. Let the government leave the talking and face the promise of curtailing these unwholesome acts that will affect us”, Smart Wesseh Washington told The Analyst.
While the decision makes some economic sense for now according to financial aspect, citizens are however concerned about the government making prudent use of the money being saved from virtually removing the unsustainable subsidy that was eating up a large share of the national revenue and directing it areas that could cushion the effect of whatever may come out of the price adjustment of rice.