22 December 2003, Rome -- Much of Liberia's seed stocks have been destroyed after 14 years of civil war and urgently need to be replenished, according to FAO.

Recent assessments indicate that three out of four farmers do not have access to rice seeds for the 2004 season. The UN agency launched an appeal for $2 million to provide 70 000 farm families with 700 tonnes of rice seeds.

"Two million dollars is a relatively low price to pay to ensure that half a million Liberians will not go to bed hungry, or at best will not be dependent on food aid next year," said Subraman Thirugnanasambanthar, FAO Representative in Liberia.

"Stimulating agricultural production is far more cost-effective and sustainable in the long-term, than providing food aid to the same number of people," he said.

"A potentially disastrous situation can be avoided if farmers in stable areas receive rice seeds in time to ensure their own food security and to increase rice production."

After 14 years of civil conflict, Liberia's agricultural system and infrastructure has been seriously damaged and malnutrition is widely spread, particularly among children.

A narrow window of opportunity

With much of the country's seed stocks decimated due to the protracted war which ended in August 2003, FAO is planning to supplement local rice seed procurement with suitable varieties found within the region.

The rice planting season begins in April and goes through June, although land clearing and preparation often starts as early as December. Seeds have to be procured and distributed between January and April 2004 in time for planting.

Two main staple crops feed Liberians, rice and cassava. Rice is the preferred crop but cassava is also widely consumed, especially when rice is in short supply, just before harvest, when stocks of rice have depleted.
Erwin Northoff
Information Officer, FAO
(+39) 06 570 53105