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Wednesday, February 28, 2024

LIBERIA’S NEVER-ENDING RICE BROUHAHA AMID A CLUELESS RESURGING FEAT

Date:

Ms. Jeanine Cooper, Minister of Agriculture 

A Patriot’s Diary with Ekena Wesley

President George Manneh Weah, like his predecessors, has had a difficult task managing Liberia’s endemic rice crisis. Tolbert and Doe embarked on a Green revolution haphazardly. Any revolution that is not inspired by hearts and minds – is bound to fail. The two former presidents were politically ecstatic but the population was never nurtured to acculturate to the aura of self-sufficiency backed by a holistic government-driven program. The mobilization of huge machinery in the name of politics cannot be sustainable. The intent becomes flawed from the get-go.

Ever since independence, we have had various quasi-forms of elections simply to see one government replace the other. That in itself has been responsible for the lack of the kind of leadership that would transform the country. Liberia has ostensibly grown in terms of age, unlike its socioeconomic variables. As a result, we have failed to plan and think strategically.

We are a country blessed with arable and vast land. But politics has for the most part consumed our national consciousness. Sadly, it is not politics that would allow sound leadership to plan, and organize in order to prepare for the future. If our mainly rural families have survived on so-called laboriously challenging subsisting cultivation methods amid fantastic yields, what is preventing our national government from going beyond what our people have been doing to change the trajectory?

In the late 70s and throughout the 80s, we saw efforts by the World Bank through the Nimba, Lofa, and Bong County Agriculture Development Projects. These initiatives undoubtedly yielded incredible dividends backed by the work under the auspices of the Cooperatives. The World Bank-backed projects provided us the opportunity to know that Lofa, Nimba, and Bong Counties could do more if we were to plan and venture into mechanized farming on a large scale. What then went wrong? Again, we often blame everything on the 14-year-old self-destructive conflict that rocked the small West African nation. But the war has since been over and the guns silenced.

Lest we forget, the tragic 1979 rice riots cannot go away especially along the social justice frontier, folks. But if rice is so political for a small country as Liberia, what are we not getting right though? Whether we like it or not there are those who are profiteering from the rice importation business. They are both in government and outside of the governance facet. In an integrity-weak nation like Liberia, government functionaries are unquestionably in the pockets of businessmen and women. These mischievous business allies’ only interest is to exploit the situation and profiteer.

It is going to take the political will, which remains far-fetched as it were. Why the political will? The political will becomes an imperative against the backdrop that amid an imperial presidency, the president must have the courage and audacity to make his or her ‘yes’ yes, and ‘no’ an absolute no! That is where the president would prioritize the greater good over parochial interest.

There has got to be a Ministry of Agriculture that is innovative, strategic, and results-oriented. The Ministry of Finance and Development, the Central Bank, our development partners, the Commercial Banks, the Chamber of Commerce, the Business Association, and the Farmers should be oriented in order to make sense of the plan.

They must patriotically think-tank the necessary variables and work together to bring the needed change that will make our country self-sufficient in food (rice) production.

We must move away from the continued band-aid solutions that have most often than not failed to bring sustainable dividends. The recent situation puts us precisely where we have always landed. The president arrives from a foreign trip. Without adequate briefing, he told journalists at the airport that rice was in the country. It was a lie! Unlike previously, President Weah could not go to the warehouses at the Freeport of Monrovia to do the regular showmanship.

The furore descended on the government amid hues and cries amongst the public. Liberians lined up at warehouses for days and weeks without any iota of hope that rice was available. The Ministry of Commerce started confiscating rice trucks bound out of the country and even redirected a consignment destined for faraway Maryland County. That was not a solution. But Liberians were panting for their staple while the government remained clueless! The Minister of Commerce’s appearance at Capitol Hill for their usual ‘good-for-nothing’ grilling, witness another cluelessness. The Commerce Minister was ill-prepared and disappointing as it were.

But if the Minister of Agriculture can now tell the nation that we are far from making any significant progress while the rice issue remains a burning one, is not only ludicrous but hopeless. This is the arm of our government we depend on for solutions in the agriculture sector. If hopelessness is coming out of the Ministry of Agriculture, we rather shut the damn Ministry down. Until we as a nation decide to put aside the politics, end the lip service and redirect our energies constructively to make the nation self-sufficient, doomsday awaits so herculean a feat that continues to resurge. It is high time we learn from history. A repeat of history could be catastrophic!

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