Rice is Liberia’s staple food, meaning a guaranteed market for investors in high quality and high yielding rice farming and processing. Liberia consumes 570,000 tons of rice every year with the average Liberian consuming 120 kg per year, compared to 96 kg per year in Senegal, and only 53 kg per year in Ghana and 33kg in Nigeria. However, there is scope for further market growth as the average Sierra Leonean consumes double the average Liberian. Liberia has significant scope to double yields and triple the amount of land that is harvested — currently 230,000 hectares is harvested but this can increase to at least 600,000 hectares, which is Liberia’s potential for irrigation, particularly if combined with the farming of fish and horticulture.
Liberia thus provides a large and growing market opportunity for investors in the rice value chain, particularly input provision, production and processing. Notably, there is a large market opportunity for investors in the Nerica variety planted in irrigated or no irrigated swamplands. There is also a large business opportunity in the supply of farm inputs and technology, hulling and milling, transportation and processing into high quality rice or products such as cereal bars, rice crackers and rice starch. Rice bran is extensively used as fish feed in Liberia and can also be processed by the pharmaceutical industry.
There is a large market opportunity
Liberia consumes 570,000 metric tons of rice every year. Of this 60% is imported leaving large scope for investors in efficient, high yield farming and irrigation to capture market share. Rice consumption in Liberia has grown by 14.1% per year on average since the end of the war.
Policy orientation to expand lowland rice areas from 10% to 22% in the next 5 years and achieve self-sufficiency of about 60% in 2017. Imports of the major countries in ECOWAS totaled 5.7 million tons of rice in 2013 alone. This has increased from 3.3 million in 2003, representing average annual growth of 5.7%. Sierra Leone, Guinea and Ivory Coast – Liberia’s three direct neighbors – imported a total of 1.4 million tons of rice in 2013 and their rice consumption is growing at the rate of 7.2% per year. In 2015, Guinea’s imports of rice amounted to USD 287m, Côte d’Ivoire’s USD 343m and Sierra Leone’s USD 84m
It is competitive to grow and process rice in Liberia
The international price for rice in May 2015 stood at $382 per metric tons. The cost of production of swampland Nerica rice (farming and processing of the paddy) is $308 per metric tons, equating to a profit of 19%. Swampland Nerica rice has a yield of 2.8 metric tons per hectare in Liberia.
Liberia currently only uses 3% of its natural internal renewable water resources to supply its rice agriculture, meaning that water is available in abundance. Given that a lot of milling in Liberia is done through traditional ways, the market for hulling is very profitable at $49 per metric tons. Various development partners are engaged in the value chain (supporting improved research and access to seed, among other areas) and are seeking to provide support to private investors. The minimum wage for skilled labor is only US$5/day, while that for unskilled labor is $4/day. By comparison the cost of unskilled labor in Ghana is US$7 per day.
Sources for main inputs
The Central Agriculture Research Institute in Gbarnga, Bong County has a large rice research program and can provide improve variety seeds, including Nerica. Africa rice provides breeder seeds that are transformed into foundation seeds. These are available through a revolving fund. There are two fertilizer and insecticide suppliers operating in Liberia (Wienco and Green farms) leaving scope for more input providers.
Many small holder rice farmers do not use agro inputs, meaning there is a big market for input providers and investors in high-yielding farms. Smallholder rice farmers lose some 40% of their produce due to easily controllable diseases and birds. Small-scale rice milling facilities, including mobile hullers, are available in country from suppliers such as Moonlight in Gbarnga and Songhai Farm in Bensonville. Financing is available from institutions such as the West Africa Venture Fund and Afriland Bank. For those seeking to invest in an anchor farm, land is accessible either by purchasing private estates — the ministry of Land Mines and Energy has a land bank and registry — or by securing access to community land through the Land commission. NIC is available to help with this process.