Liberia: Bong Rice Farmers Harvest 253 Acres, Amid Tractor Tax Ordeal

-Appeal for Pres. Weah's intervention

In 2018, Kesseh Yeleboh a son of Boinsen District in Bong County imported two farm tractors in to the country to assist more than 500 struggling farmers from seven villages in his district to mechanize food crops production, mainly rice. But since then, Yeleboh has found it very difficult to clear the tractors from the Free Port of Monrovia due to tax imposed by the Liberia Revenue Authority (LRA).

However, despite Kesseh's frustration to get the tractors cleared from the port, the farmers in the district supported by him demonstrated their commitment this year to manually cultivate 253 acres of upland and 50 acres of lowland with rice which the farmers are almost at the verge of completing the harvest.

The Liberian rice value chain faces numerous challenges including limited, reliable and certified seeds as well as general lack of knowledge and equipment to mechanize in order to improve farmers' yields and minimize post-harvest losses. Many lowland and upland farmers lack improved skills and technologies to improve production. Post-rice harvest loses remain high as farmers are not able to process and store their crops quickly. As a result of such lack of capacity among Liberian farmers, the importation of rice has become the primary solution for meeting demand. Statistics show that Liberia spends US$200 million annually on rice importation.

Flashback: Kesseh Yeleboh explains his frustrations to his kinsmen about the farm tractors held up at the Free Port of Monrovia.

Mr. Yeleboh told the Daily Observer that his farming initiative is meant to address some of these challenges faced by farmers in the country. He said he is not only working to provide tractors, but intends to construct a processing hub that will be equipped with various equipment to enable the farmers reduce post-harvest losses.

"I made the Government to understand that I intend to improve the farming conditions of my kinsmen, who are still producing rice at a low scale. The farmers lack the opportunity to engage in modern farming activities. This is why I imported the tractors to enable them to expand and produce more. But some government officials are saying that my organization is out for profit making, which is the reason they don't want to grant tax relief on the [imported] equipment," he said.

He said the 'Kesseh Foundation' was established in 2016 as a non-profit organization to empower small scale farmers, which he argued should be a basis for the government to see reason to grant him tax relief on his farm tractors.

In line with the Pro-poor Agenda for Prosperity and Development (PAPD), President George Weah, in August 2019, issued Executive Order #97, spending tariffs on agriculture products for a period of one year.

Kesseh is therefore appealing to the President to intervene in getting the farm tractors released in line with the tax waver proclamation.

"With all of the engagement, the authorities are saying that the equipment are now ready for auction at the Free Port. I am asking the President to please intervene to allow us speedily take delivery of the tractors.

Albert Newah, Field Manager of the project, said that they were pleased with the support being provided them by the Kesseh Foundation to improve their farming activities.

"With this rice project, we are going to end hunger in the district. So we are appealing to the government to please let us have access to the farm tractors," Newah said.

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