MONROVIA, July 18, 2023 – The World Bank today launched the Fourth Edition of its annual Liberia Economic Update, “Getting Rice Right for Productivity and Poverty Alleviation.” According to the report, growth in the agricultural sector accelerated to 5.9% in 2022 from 3.3% in 2021. Increased crop production, especially rice and cassava produced primarily for domestic consumption, was the main driver of growth in the agriculture sector.
Liberia’s economy expanded by 4.8% in 2022 despite global headwinds from the war in Ukraine, high global inflation, and depressed demand in advanced economies. The expansion was driven by gold production and a relatively good agricultural harvest. Growth in services slowed to 2.8% from 3.0% in 2021 reflecting a slowdown in trade and transport services and the hospitality industry.
“Despite the rebound in growth led by mining and a relatively good agricultural harvest during the year, food insecurity remains a major challenge for Liberia, with more than four-fifths of the population facing moderate or severe food insecurity,” said Mack Capehart Mulbah, Acting World Bank Country Manager for Liberia. “The strong preference for rice among Liberians makes it integral to the country’s food security, poverty alleviation, and efforts to address vulnerabilities.”
The supply, demand, and price dynamics of rice are shaping food insecurity and poverty in Liberia. Rice makes up over 20% of total food consumption, accounts for nearly half of the calorie intake of adults, and accounts for about 15% of the overall spending of an average household in the country. Demographic trends and a strong preference for the commodity are the main drivers of demand. Yet Liberia produces only a third of its rice needs due to several constraints, including limited access to technology, inefficient farming practices, low public and private investments, and a fragmented value chain, among other factors that have kept productivity low.
“Amid low production and high demand, the increase in imported rice prices continues to fuel food insecurity, poverty, and vulnerabilities in Liberia,” said Gweh Gaye Tarwo, Liberia Country Economist and main author of the report. “Domestic rice production would need to triple to satisfy local demand, but increasing production would require significant investments in the rice sector as well as policy actions,” he emphasized.
Stakeholders’ coordination and engagement on the operationalization of the Liberia National Rice Development Strategy and the Liberia Seed Development and Certification Agency Act of 2019 could be critical to improving the rice sector. Registration of customary land to strengthen tenure security, improving the coverage and quality of roads, providing affordable energy, and avoiding policies that distort the rice industry are potential interventions that are critical to improving the rice value chain. Other interventions could include enhancing information dissemination on regional market price and adopting sectoral policies aimed at improving seed varieties, storage, processing, post-harvest management, and market access development.