The extreme sensitivity attached to the status of rice (the nation’s staple) whenever simmering report about shortage or scarcity hits the air, deep-rooted fear without hesitation, takes center-space based on the April 14, 1979 rice riot that since then qualifies rice as a political commodity, is being considered the story about a man who had been bitten by a snake, from the strike of any imagination, will never take without seeing the entire structure, a lizard’s tail in action for granted.
This is how gravely serious and frightening, any news about the slightest shortage let alone scarcity of rice is received by the Liberian people which immediately begins to circulate their blood in the opposite direction, and thereafter, are no longer at ease.
This now known as political commodity, is tied to a Liberian maxim that “a Liberian person may be feted with all the most sumptuous cuisines, but once he has not eaten rice in the process, he has not eaten anything for the day.” What this shows and honestly reflects is vividly glaring, that have your elephant meat, but just give me my rice, and please don’t play any dangerous game with it.
Any service providers who decide to play hide-and-seek with rice for any motive must always think twice, and be keenly mindful of the sour grape of April 14, 1979 which ill-treated the economy, when the people vented out their dissatisfaction against the Late William R, Tolbert’s government by taking to the streets of the capital wherein that government did not even win both the rice battle and war.
Today, people who were not born at that time, still remembered the terrifying songs and stories told to them about the misery of April 14 and the only lesion learned thereafter, is for government to never toy with the business of rice dubbed political commodity; that while government’s agriculture policy is not consistently and persistently supported fully including a caveat to ensure that the people must apply some adjustment in their diet to consume locally produced rice, as they importantly grow much more rice for internal consumption with excess traded on the local and foreign markets; under the compelling canopy of grow what you eat and eat what you grow”, whatsoever government that may be in power should walk chuck-line and always ensure of the availability of rice on the Liberian markets without the murmuring of shortage or scarcity of the political commodity bouncing in the public thereby raising panic and uneasiness.
It is being reported that the nation spends more than US$200m annually to import rice; well, when government’s agriculture policy, with emphasis on growing rice on a massive scale based on clearly defined and carefully implemented with profound and maximum support from the government, farmers will begin to immensely benefit from their labors, and while cutting down the huge employment weight placed on the government’s shoulders, the sizeable amount of money spent yearly abroad to buy rice could be shifted to other national development to include education, health, agriculture and other most needed people-centered projects.
Meanwhile, a local daily quoted an importer who asked not to be named in print that “our officials in government need to know that we don’t grow rice in Liberia. Have they ever thought of what could happen when we all stop importing? What is hurting our business is the fact the Ministry of Commerce appears to be insensitive to our plights and losses and this is very discouraging.”
It also reported that “we can understand why the government would want to control the price of rice because it’s a national security issue. However, the government at the same time cannot sit supinely and let our businesses dwindle. If the charges at the ports cannot be reduced, then we must have some incentives that would keep us afloat. But as it is, other investors wanting to come to do business in Liberia would be discouraged because of the loses involved in doing business here.”
At the same time, while Minister of Commerce and Industry Mawine G. Diggs says there is no need to worry as rice is in enough supply in the country, she added that “I want to state clearly that there is absolutely no shortage of rice on the market and therefore, there is no need for panic buying as we have observed. The wholesale price of rice remains at US$13 and there is a sufficient stock of rice in the country.”
Accordingly, she noted that the current inventory shows that there are 40,000 Metric Tons of rice in the country, accounting for 1.6 million bags of the 25Kg rice. She stated that the approved retail price for the 25Kg bag of Rice is US$13.50.
“Against this backdrop, the Commerce Ministry is warning against unwholesome practices in the Liberian business sector, including but not limited to hoarding of any commodity for that matter or arbitrary stepping up of its price,” said Minister Diggs.
Minister Diggs pointed out that a consignment of 30,000 Metric Tons, an equivalent of 1.2 million bags of rice is expected into Liberia that will sustain the local market for two months.
She said 18,000 Metric Tons out of the 30,000 arrived in the country recently, adding that an additional supply of 55,000 Metric Tons are expected into the Country.
Minister Diggs warned that the Commerce Ministry will not relent to apply the appropriate laws in going after those whose excessive desire is to profiteer at the expense of the public, especially during these testing days of the Coronavirus Pandemic in Liberia.
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