MONROVIA: It seems that Liberia’s struggle for food security and would soon be over, as a leading Ghanaian rice producer with vast experience in mechanized farming has surfaced in Liberia.
The government of Liberia through the Ministry of Agriculture in recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with A&G Agro Industries for the production of mechanized farm rice and pepper.
Reports say Liberia spends over US$200 million each year to import the nation’s staple-rice. Liberia consumes about 378,000 metric tons which amount to approximately 26 million bags of rice yearly.
Since the 1970s Liberia’s staple, rice has become a leading political instrument for every administration. Most often, the opposition community uses the price of rice as a clever political tool to incite citizens and create political disorder, without little or no knowledge of how the commodity is being imported into the country.
For instance, a mere proposal from the William Richard Tolbert administration, encouraging Liberians to get involved in agriculture by producing their own food-rice because the price would increase due to global demand at the time, was politicized by the then opposition community.
The misinterpretation of President Tolbert’s proposal sparked a violent protest that reportedly killed over 50 persons during the infamous “RICE RIOT” in 1979. Former Presidents Samuel Doe (late), Charles Taylor and Madam Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf had their fair shares of the imported rice dilemma and its accompanying political onslaught thereof.
Despite the politics that have engulfed the rice venture in Liberia, local farmers and rice importers have been struggling to solve this problem; ADA Libyan Project and Charles Taylor’s farms have all collapsed due to an apparent politics of major rice importers.
But with the new generation of Liberian leadership headed by former football legend, George Manneh Weah, its future in mechanized rice production appears promising with the signing of this new MOU with one of Ghana’s best Agro farmers.
During the signing ceremony held at a local hotel in Monrovia, Deputy Agriculture Minister, Cllr. Sayma Cyrenius Cephus said the coming of A&G Agro Industries (Abanga Farms) to Liberia is a manifestation of Pan-Africanism aimed at complementing government’s pro-poor agenda in food production particularly rice.
Deputy Minister Cephus said the MOU is just one of several legal instruments that would lead to the production of mechanized farm rice that will put “food-on-the-table of ordinary Liberians.”
He said under the MOU, the government is obligated in providing 10,000 acres of farmland for the project which has a duration of 25 years. He added that the A&G Agro-Industries will provide the farming equipment and training opportunities for Liberians.
Apart, the Minister indicated that there will also be pepper production, and A&G Agro is to construct what he termed as “Green House,” which will be a pepper storage facility.
As for the marketing purpose, the rice, when produced, will be sold here and in other West African nations. The project will offer additional job prospects.
Min. Cephus maintained that there would be local content which would encourage Liberians’ participation and SIAFA Group is currently partnering with A&G Agro. He asserted that Liberians will be shareholders in the Articles of Incorporation.
Moreover, the Deputy Minister averred that the MOU is the first step to the project; and it has a lifespan of six months where equipment is assembled, project plan developed and identification of farming sites, among others.
Min. Cephus noted that the coming of Mr. Abanga and team to invest in the Agro sector is wonderful, describing the project as “new revolution in farming.”
A&G Agro-Mechanical Industries President and Chief Executive Officer, Thomas Abanga remarked that his company will provide training and support system in running the equipment.
Mr. Abanga thanked the Liberian government for the project and lectured that Africa is blessed with vast land areas, while the West has the technology. He said we (Africans) can’t compete with the Western World in technology by going to Mars, but we can utilize the land for food production and there is no need for Africa to import rice with such existing vast lands, and there is where the vision of A&G Agro Mechanical Industries came from.
The Ghanaian Agro expert stressed the importance of more food production in Africa, adding Ghana and Liberia have a similar ecosystem.
He said, “We need to strive on a Pan-African agenda” by changing the direction in agricultural production through integrating innovations into agriculture because according to him, farming is different from agriculture.
Importantly, rice still remains the single largest commodity that influences the country’s body politics but it continues to face numerous constraints that even threaten its availability. The situation faced by this sector is being compounded by various interests; the State, Importers, Taxes and Fees, and Consumers.
However, many observers believe that if this project is successful, and mechanized rice is produced in Liberia, it would hugely impact the economy through job creation, food security and the prolonged scheme of using rice as a political tool would ease.
Meanwhile, the Liberian team was led by a media marketing guru, John Siafa and A&G Agro-Mechanical Industries were represented by its President and CEO, Mr. Thomas Abanga, Technical Advisor Charles K. Annan and Haruna Abdulai, Supervisor-Finance/Administration; among others. The Ministry of Agriculture team was headed by Deputy Minister, Sayma Cyrenius Cephus.