Students enrolled in the UL College of Agriculture & Forestry did rebut each other arguments in a rice debate, with the pros arguing passionately that the country must focus its attention exclusively on increasing domestic rice production to feed itself, while the cons disagreed and countered that focus should not  exclusively rice production, instead, Liberia should   include cash crops,  such as coco and coffee, as value addition in its quest to achieve food security.

The debate was organized by the William R. Tolbert Jr. College of Agriculture and Forestry at the University of Liberia, in collaboration with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID-Liberia) under the theme: “Development Matters.”

It brought together students from the college to debate on the topic: “The Challenges and Promises Inherent in Setting Self-Sufficiency in Rice Production as a National Policy Objective”. Two teams of three members each constituted the pros and cons.

Each side was allotted five minutes to make opening statement. The pros, as expected, was the first to make its case, asserting that is a need to increase rice production and include cocoa and coffee production in order to have sufficiency of rice and food in the country. The group further argued that the keystone for any agriculture and economic transformation to gain self-sufficiency in rice production as Liberia staple food.

Citing data from the National Investment Commission of Liberia and FAO’s 2016 statistics, they argued that the annual consumption of rice in Liberia stands at five hundred seventy thousand metric tons, of which more than 60% is imported, thus costing the nation around four hundred million United States Dollars.

They argued that the per capital consumption/average consumption of Liberia per year is 120kg with a growth rate of 14.1%.They maintained that with statistics provided by local and international institutions and the need for sustainable livelihood, rice has a higher consumption advantage to other cash crops for the purpose of food security in Liberia.

On whether Liberia is a suitable country for large scale rice production, the pros argued that given its warm climatic condition and potential in the sector, Liberia is well suited for rice cultivation. They explained that Liberia has sufficient water for the crop production especially rice which is a semi-aquatic plant that needs sufficient water, citing a 2016 Government of Liberia report which shows that Liberia uses only 3-to-10% of its water resources, something that gives her advantage for cultivation of the crop.

The pros recommended to the Government of Liberia and partners to further develop the value chain of rice production and mitigate the peculiarity of the agriculture sector in order to achieve food security in Liberia.

For their part, the cons argued that focus should not be placed exclusively on rice production alone as a traditional food, but cocoa and coffee to generate additional increase income. Quoting an Agro Forestry Center statistics, the students argued that West Africa supplies two-thirds of the World’s cocoa, noting that cocoa production plays a significant role in the incomes of Ivory Coast, Ghana and Nigeria, countries which Liberia has better soil, climate and topography over.

They further argued that “Even though cocoa and coffee are not staple food for these countries, they are involved with the production of the crops because they give better economic returns,” asserting that Liberia can learn from their experiences.

The ‘cons’ cited studies done by USAID and Tony Blanche Foundation showing that every metric ton of cocoa produced in Liberia will earn the country 1,200 United States Dollars as a profit.

“Cocoa is an industrial crop, therefore we can manufacture here our own products like cocoa butter and soap, cocoa powder and chocolate,” they argued.

The cons recommended to the GOL and partners that, in addition to the manufacturing of cocoa and coffee products, production of the crops will also create job and provide employment opportunities for young Liberians in the agriculture, management and business sectors thereby reducing poverty in the country.

”Since we’ve been growing rice, how many people have been employed? The idea of growing rice in Liberia is just for consumption, then why can’t we get involved in the cocoa and coffee production that will give us better economic returns?” they asked rhetorically.

Speaking earlier, the Dean of the William R. Tolbert, Jr. College of Agriculture and Forestry (CAF), Dr. Moses M. Zinnah thanked USAID-Liberia for collaborating with the CAF to organize the debate among the students.

“CAF will continue to encourage the students to reflect and debate on critical policy issues affecting the agriculture sector,” Dr. Zinnah assured.

USAID focal person, Kwame Clement, lauded Dr. Zinnah and the University of Liberia family for the collaboration and promised further collaboration with the UL with the objective of fostering the development agenda of Liberia.

“The University of Liberia being the nation’s highest institution of learning, I think this is the best place to discuss these issues”, Mr. Clement noted. He promised to provide the CAF with copies of the video from the debate to be distributed to the students.

Mr. Clement promised that the video will be telecast on Liberia National Television, LNTV to reach a larger audience.

“We want to ensure that the information, critiques, insights, and recommendations preferred by the students during the debate can inform policy decision-making and help build national consensus on the appropriate policy approaches in the rice sector, Mr. Clement stated.