Monday, 7 September 2015

WAAPP Liberia Hosts MRU Countries Consultative Meeting to Develop a Strategy to Increase Rain-fed and Upland Rice Production in Mano River Union Countries.

Guinea, Ivory Coast, Sierra Leone and Liberia Agreed on a Way Forward

By: Elvis H. Sirleaf

A Sub-Regional consultation towards developing a strategy to increase the production of Rain-fed and Upland Rice in Mano River Union countries has ended in Monrovia, with participating countries agreeing to adopt several proactive measures that will see the republics of Guinea, Ivory Coast, Sierra Leone and Liberia increase rice production.
The meeting which was held at the Bella Casa Hotel and Suits in Monrovia from August 31 to September 1, 2015 brought together over sixty delegates from the four MRU counties, and included Senior and Junior Ministers, Senior staff of WAAPP Project Coordination Units  (PCUs) in the various countries, MRU officials as well as donor partners.

At the opening ceremony on Monday, August 31, the newly confirmed Agriculture Minister Dr. Moses Zinnah called on the delegates to develop a plan and come up with a resolution on how together, MRU countries can move the agriculture sector forward and reduce the over dependency on the importation of rice. He noted that Liberia will take all positive recommendations coming out of the meeting seriously.
According to Dr. Zinnah, his taking over at the Ministry of Agriculture (MOA) is marred by serious concerns as the activities at the ministry is very critical to national development and the MOA is one of the government’s agencies that is going through a serious transition.

He said he was delighted to see that the Mano River Union (MRU) has shifted its gear from solely looking at political issues to now look at food security. He noted this was a good move, because when you get agriculture right, it is four times more effective to reduce poverty.

The Agriculture Minister said he was also pleasantly touched to know that most of the funds in the MRU Ebola affected countries plan was directed at agriculture recovery.
He called on the participants of the consultation meeting to be keen on increasing rice production, but focusing on value addition, as well as increasing the role of the private sector and ensuring that we broaden the markets.

Dr. Zinnah noted that food security is not just a national concern, but a cross-border issue. He said this is so because if we [Liberians] can produce more then we can consume as a country, it means we will be moving into other sub-regional or regional markets.

On behalf of the Government of Liberia, he thanked the Japanese Government and the World Bank, as well as other donor partners for supporting this initiative that also involves improving the capacity of the Central Agricultural Research Institute (CARI) in central Liberia.

“Government is bringing to the table its commitment to work with Africa Rice and others so that we do not plan beyond two years. There is a commitment to deliver within the remaining 28 months the current government has in office”, he said.

For his part, the Deputy Secretary General of the Mano River Union (MRU) Dr. Simeon Moribah noted that the meeting was in response to an assignment given to the secretariat in relations to the challenge in the agriculture sector with focus on rice production.

He said we cannot over emphasize the need to improve rice production in the Mano River Union countries because not only does it have social, political and security implications, it is also the stable food of all member countries.
The MRU boss noted that the meeting should address three important questions or concerns. Namely; why are we still faced with these challenges in spite of all the efforts that have been made? What have we done, and what needs to be done to ensure that we achieve our objectives as far as the productivity of rice is concerned. And how are we going to do this?
Dr. Moribah noted that this may require a strategy shift, which may give rise to policy shift that may have institutional and financial implications, but with the expertise and support of the partners, he was confident that the meeting will address the concerns.

On Behalf of the donor partners, the Senior Agriculture Specialist at the World Bank and Co Task Team Leader (TTL) for the WAAPP Liberia project noted that the forum came at a very opportune time. A time that MRU countries need to take charge of what he called “their destiny”.

Dr. Abimbola Adubi said it was clear now that the only way Africa can be really developed is through agriculture. “Over the years, it has been proven that if we follow through value chain approach in handling the issues of agriculture, we will have a win-win situation for all sectors. It will increase food security and at the same time ensure there is job creation”. He said.
Pointing out that we import rice from countries that have the same ecology and weather as the MRU countries, he wondered why we still import rice when we can grow our own food here.

Dr. Adubi said the World Bank was glad consultation meeting was taking place, and expected very strong resolutions to come out of the deliberations.

He then challenged the meeting delegates to develop strategies on enhancing productivity of yields from the current 0.8 to 1.8 tons and upwards. He also named strengthening the existing seed systems, supporting smallholder farmers, the inclusion of value addition which is a pull factor and the creation of market as well as the provision of a good pricing system, something national governments may have to get involved with and lead, as key areas the meeting should address.“ Timeliness is another issue. Let the action plan be within the next two years, innovative and target production”, he concluded.

The National Project Coordinator of WAAPP J. Cyrus Saygbe, MRU Japanese Grant Coordinator Madam Kenyeh Barlay, Director of the National Center of Specialization in Mali and other dignitaries were all in attendance.

Since the inception of the WAAPP-1C interventions in the MRU countries, and particularly those supported by the Japanese PHRD Grant interventions, significant progress has been made in strengthening rice production and seed systems, as well as other interventions along the value chain. The project has been able to reach and surpass its target of 330,000 beneficiaries from inception to April 2015 and has reached 538,269 persons of whom 44.75 % are women. Land under cultivation utilizing new technologies in the sub-region totaled 217, 104 hectares, falling short of the targeted 270,000 hectares. The objective of the consultations is to contribute to the development of the Strategy of increasing rain-fed and upland rice production within MRU.