The difficulty in acquiring seed rice during the current planting season is having a negative effect on rice farming in rural Liberia where there has been a massive return of former internally displaced persons and refugees, agriculture officials told IRIN.
“One major problem affecting rice farming in Liberia after years of conflict is the availability of seed rice. Most often the seeds do not reach the farmers in time because we had to import them, since we are not producing them here”, Liberia’s Agriculture Minister Chris Toe said.
Toe said farmers should normally receive seed rice in February ahead of the rainy season.
“But because farmers receive the seed rice in June or July at the start of the rainy season, they find it difficult to plant during this period and, as a result, rice production is now on a lower scale”, Toe said.
Rice is the staple diet in Liberia. However, rice planting is most commonly left to local farmers. Agriculture Ministry statistics indicate there is heavy reliance on small-scale subsistence farmers.
Joseph Boiwu, assistant representative of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in Liberia, told IRIN delays in getting seed rice to farmers, who are mostly returnees from displaced persons’ and refugee camps, were due to logistical constraints with regard to importation.
Seed rice from Sierra Leone
“The FAO had to start importing 2,600 metric tonnes of seed rice from neighboring Sierra Leone in April this year. By June we completed transporting the seed rice to Liberia by trucks and ship… Far less than 600 tonnes were purchased locally”, Boiwu said.
Boiwu said: “All stakeholders in the agriculture sector in Liberia reached a decision to ration seed rice; farmers are entitled to 25kg for each acre [2.4 hectares] of land.”
Toe said, however, that the standard amount of seed rice required per 2.4 hectares is 1.2 metric tonnes.
Olun Kamitatu of Catholic Relief Service (CRS) in Liberia said in some instances there was a “seed rice shortfall” for local farmers before the planting season began.
“The problem existed in 2006… When the Ministry of Agriculture and non-governmental organisations plan to distribute seed rice to farmers, there is always a shortfall,” she said.
Local farmers blame the delay in obtaining seed rice on the failure of the Agriculture Ministry and NGOs to plan ahead.
Boima Seh, a local rice farmer in Klay, Bomi County, 35km northwest of the capital, Monrovia, said: “Had the Agriculture Ministry and NGOs planned properly to get the seed rice to us during the dry season [around January or February] we would not have had this problem.”
“I am to get my share of rice seed at the end of July, but how am I supposed to plant it? The rain has already started. My four acres [9.6 hectares] of land is wet at the moment.”
John Jukon, head of a local group of rural farmers called Farmers Against Hunger, said: “Most of the farmers have begun eating their seed rice since they are unable to plant now”.
“No one should expect a good rice season this year… Most farmers are upset by the delay in getting the seed rice,” Jukon told IRIN.
Seed rice propagation sites
Toe said the government, in partnership with international donors, is establishing seed rice multiplication sites in all 15 counties of Liberia.
“The process has already started and we are hoping that by next year our farmers will have enough seed and we will not have to rely on imported seed, which would most likely be delayed due to transportation constraints,” Toe said.
FAO statistics indicate there are currently 109 multiplication sites across the country.
Boiwu said FAO also hoped farmers would utilise the present seed consignment to ensure they had sufficient for the next planting season.
Kamitatu of CRS agreed that multiplication sites could resolve the problem.
“These sites would allow farmers to easily access seed rice at the community level”, she said.
According to a Comprehensive Food Security and Nutrition Survey - jointly conducted by the Liberian government, international NGOs and the UN and released in September 2006 - 55 percent of farmers in 375 rural communities purchased their own seed rice for the 2006 planting season. Only 19 percent relied on seed rice from donors.