The Liberian rice economy is extremely important to the diets of the population. According to FAOSTAT (2007) the Food Balance Sheet for Liberia indicates that 33% of per capital caloric intake is from milled rice, followed by 21% from cassava. Liberia relies heavily upon rice imports for 69% of annual consumption (2011 imports of 300 thousand metric tons (MOCI) for estimated 2011 consumption of 437 thousand metric tons (USDA, PSD).
Domestic rice output is predominantly produced under upland (slash and burn) production system. Average yields in Liberia are low by global standards (Figure 1). Most of the domestic rice output only sustains the farm household consumption. Very little surplus of domestic production enters into the commercial market, although accurate data on this flow are not available.
Clearly one of the major constraints facing enterprise development in Liberia for the rice sector is the presence and level of activity in rice by relief donor agencies and NGOs. While efforts by these groups have certainly assisted Liberia address food security concerns following the civil strife, their dominant presence in donating seeds, tools, etc. has the effect of suppressing private enterprise development.
Another major constraint is the gap in agronomic and economic research on rice. This gap constrains the ability of the project to promote meaningful farm level extension activities, timely and useful sales of output enhancing purchased inputs that translate research into improvement in productivity at the farm level. There are now credible estimates of the costs of producing rice under rain-fed upland, lowland or irrigated lowland. This is a major challenge for the project as it will need to benchmark progress not only in terms of enterprise development but also in terms of helping to reduce costs per unit of output.
A constraint also exists in terms of labor supply and increases in unskilled wage rates. According to price statistics collected and reported by LISGIS, wage rates have risen over the past two year although a cursory examination of the data suggests that labor markets are not well-integrated across counties.
Recommendations for FED Activities for the Rice Sector
- Seed sector development. This should be the primary focus in the initial year of the project. There are improved varieties for both upland (Nerica 1, 2, and 14 and LAC 23 (red and white)) and lowland rice (Suakoko 8 and Nerica L 19) which can be produced and demonstrated for rice farmers. The project needs to go big with this activity by engaging as many leading farmers in each town/village to produce this year, even a demonstration plot of improved lowland rice variety, for seed production. Ideally this program should be identified with a name (slogan that the MOA/extension component should help to develop) that will be an identifier of the activity. While the project appears to be limited/focused on enhancing lowland rice, I recommend that where possible that farmers be enrolled to also develop a seed production plots with an improved upland variety.
- Develop support for manufacture or assembly of farm tools. The 2010 Agricultural Survey reported that the most important constraint among rice farmers was lack of farming tools (Figure 2.2, p. 8). Additional rationale for this recommendation is that wage rates have risen dramatically (nearly doubling) over the past two years (LISGIS price statistics). While lack of farm labor was identified in the 2010 survey as only the fifth most important production constraint, as the mining sector and tree crop sectors siphon off farm labor away from rice production, labor supply will to produce rice access to farming tools and ultimately mechanization will be critical to improving productivity of rice in Liberia.
- Support basic research trials on varietal selection and response to fertilizer application and timing. Continue research on varietal screening for tolerance to iron toxicity. Support research trials on weed and pest controls on improved varieties. Conduct partial budgeting on such trials.
- Support a National Workshop on Constraints to Increasing Rice Production in Liberia: Insights from Liberia Rice Farmers, Ministry of Agriculture, and approaches being pursued in Other African Nations, by the Africa Rice Center and by the International Rice Research Institute.
- Develop support for improved harvest and post-harvest crop management, including: developing private enterprises to supply tarpaulins, build cooperative/village drying facilities, assisting in the development of private enterprises to build more efficient rice hullers/milling equipment such as the Freedom Mills. Assist in the design of procurement systems with either current rice trading firms that engaged in importation of rice or existing rice millers such as Fabrar Rice Mill that can facilitate pooling of surplus production for sale to rice mills.
- Promote the financing for purchase of inputs by working with micro finance and commercial banks through established input suppliers such as Weinco and other firms, as identified by Jean Nyemba and Mary Miller.