The paddy rice harvest is almost completed in swamps and uplands in most of Liberia, but it is still ongoing in few areas in the lowlands. In Nimba county, the transplantation of short-maturing varieties of rice for a new cycle of production is completed. The crops are in the tillering stage and harvests are expected in the next three months. Even though this production is implemented at a small scale (not adopted by most of the farmers), it will increase some household’s food stocks. Rice production in southeastern counties, mainly in some areas in Grand Gedeh, Maryland, River Gee and Grand Kru, are estimated to reach 15 - 20 percent of last year’s production. This is partly due to a lake of rainfall from May to July which affected vegetative development of the rice crop. The Nimba county, which hosted 28 percent of Ivorian refugees in Liberia, will record near average rice production. Currently most of households’ food stocks are at good levels thanks to the near average harvest of rice in the country. In the counties hosting refugees, the harvest of rice, although low in some areas, have improved households’ food stocks. Selling farm products (plantain, cassava, vegetables, potatoes, eddo, palm nut, pepper, etc.) and the production and selling of charcoal (mainly in Nimba) will provide sufficient income to households. Refugees in the camps remain dependant on humanitarian food assistance, but even some refugee households have cropped small plots during the 2011 rainy season.
Except in Lofa and parts of Bong counties, imported rice remains the most important supply for urban and rural markets since farmers are holding back their production for their own consumption. It is expected that more local milled rice will reach the markets near the end of December when farmers, as usual, sell parts of their production to earn income and fulfill other needs during the Christmas celebration. The price of imported rice is stable compared to previous months but remain higher compared to November last year. In Ganta and Zwedru markets, the annual variation for the 50kg bag of imported rice is 39 and 50 percent respectively. Fuel prices are also stable compared to previous months, but remain high in the remote areas like Zwedru (400LD/gallon) and Ziah (500LD/gallon) compared to Monrovia (305LD/gallon). This has an effect of increasing transportation costs which is translated into commodities prices.
As of November 2011, the refugee population in the six camps is estimated at 36,188 with Grand Gedeh county hosting almost 65 percent of the population. It is reported that those living with host communities are returning by their own means after the Liberia harvest. Few official voluntary returns that are supported by UNHCR, WFP, Caritas, etc. from Banh and Solo camps have started in October. In fact, there may be more returnees as reported officially.
Livelihood recovery for households which hosted refugees at the early stage of the influx remains slow. WFP, FAO, CRS, OXFAM, and other NGO are yet to implement livelihood recovery activities in areas hosting refugee for both host communities and refugees. This next step will help improve livelihoods and improve food stocks through supports for the dry season production.
There is no evidence that local rice production will push down the imported rice prices, but the recent harvest has the advantage of enabling households to meet their food needs through their own production before purchasing rice from the market. Food availability at the household level is increasing thanks to the new rice harvest. Most households can meet their needs until next May at least. However, poor households who took credit to buy food during the lean season and experienced low rice production this year will encounter food deficits for one to two months because they will likely sell part of this year’s rice production to payback their credit. They may rely on markets to meet their food needs one to two months before the hunger season. In general, the usual coping strategies combined with the planned interventions in the area for both refugees and host communities should help poor households meet their basic food needs. The current strategy of moving refugees from host communities to camps, and ending food distribution outside of the camp by the end of December 2011 will help clarify the actual population of refugees and help to reestablish the size of assistance needed to meet needs in the field.