For some farmers in Lofa county, the local market is as far as their rice will go. For others, their rice may go the extra distance and make it across the border into Guinea. For the majority, however, the annual rice harvest does not leave the farm. The farmers’ family, neighbors and farm hands consume all of it.
Typically, around July and August, the local rice stores are low, and Liberians rely on imported rice for the next three or four months, which costs less than locally grown rice. During the hunger months—as they are known—many Liberians desperately depend on rice from abroad. The days when Lofa was the “bread basket” of Liberia seem lost in another time.
“Farmers can’t produce enough rice to feed everybody,” says James Darbor, lead farmer of the Bagagizia Farmers Association near Voinjama. “But if we expand our farms, we can make more rice and sell more rice.”
Bagagizia is one of several rice farming cooperatives working with the USAID Food and Enterprise Development (FED) Program to increase lowland rice production. By expanding lowland swamps, using mechanization, creating irrigation structures and planting improved rice seeds, rice farmers have improved their yields to between 4 and 6 metric tons per hectare (MT/ha), a significant increase over 1 MT/ha from before.
“Most farmers start out doing upland rice farming, but the swamp is better than upland. We produce more and can make two or even three harvests per year,” explains Kabeh Zayzay of the Kabuke Farmers Association in Voinjama.
The year 2014 may go down in history for these farmers. The Bagagizia farmers sold over 70 bags of surplus paddy rice to local processor Fabrar Liberia, who traveled through Lofa county in the month of May to purchase rice. The Kabuke farmers sold 55 bags to Fabrar.
“Now we have a surplus and farmers don’t want to wait for the government or the NGOs to come and buy our rice. If we don’t sell, it spoils,” says James Darbor.
To increase the options for Liberian rice farmers, USAID FED began supporting Fabrar Liberia in 2014 with bigger warehousing and increased processing facilities in Kakata, Margibi. Poised to become Liberia’s largest rice processor, Fabrar Liberia is cozying up to farmers.
“As a rice processor, we know the importance of establishing a relationship with farmers. We are all part of the same value chain, and success depends on all of us,” the company’s CEO, Fabio Lavelanet, explained to farmers in Kolahun District, Lofa County.
During the Lofa visit, Fabrar Liberia made a 25% down payment on 1200 bags (60 MT) of paddy rice from nine farming groups in Voinjama, Kolahun and Foya districts. Fabrar’s purchase marks the first time in Liberia’s history that a local processor buys this much rice.
“Our plan is to take this relationship beyond this season,” explains Lavelanet. After Fabrar’s visit to Foya, farmers prepared and collected another 1500 bags of paddy rice to sell to Fabrar.
“The opportunity for local rice is enormous. Many people think it’s difficult to compete with imported rice, but this rice has a natural advantage,” Lavelanet says. “It’s grown here in Liberia.”
Fabrar will market the rice to local consumers in Monrovia and throughout the country. In addition to traditional marketing channels like supermarkets and restaurants, there are opportunities for large scale rice contracts with mining corporations and the government of Liberia, among others.
Fabrar aims to buy rice from farmers from Nimba, Bong and other counties and hopes to reach 40,000 bags of rice in 2014. “Even if we can’t get 40,000 bags, we have motivated farmers to produce more for next year. The message is clear. If you grow rice, we will come to buy it,” says Lavelanet.
For more information, farmers selling surplus rice should contact Fabrar Liberia at 0886 109 817.
The USAID FED Program for Liberia aims to reduce hunger and promote food security for Liberians through increased agricultural productivity and profitability in rice, cassava, vegetable and goat value chains. It is implemented in six counties: Bong, Nimba, Lofa, Grand Bassa, Margibi and Montserrado.
The United States – as the largest donor and closest ally – is supporting the Liberian priorities to build sustainable local capacity, make a difference in people’s lives, and move towards a shared vision of self-sufficiency and prosperity. For more information please visit. www.usaid.gov. USAID FED is Africa’s largest project under President Barack Obama’s Feed the Future Initiative, which promotes a move away from subsistence and increasing food security by working with public and private bodies, including the Government of Liberia, the private sector, local NGOs and other key stakeholders.