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Sunday, July 17, 2016

Liberian Rice Riot of 1979

In 1979, dozens of protesters were killed and hundreds injured in riots following a proposed increase in the price of rice in Liberia. In Liberia, rice is a socially and politically important food crop.


A worker at the Fabrar Rice Liberia Processing Plant rests before beginning the arduous task of unloading more than one hundred rice bags.
Unloading rice in Liberia Africa

1979 Rice Riots

The year 2016 marks the 37th anniversary of the Liberian Rice Riot of 1979. On April 14, 1979, there were protests in Monrovia against the increase in the price of rice including a 10% tax for every man, woman and child in Liberian households. Former President William Tolbert, without warning increased the price of a 100-pound bag of rice from $22 to$26- $30, an unheard of price increase considering most Liberians at the time lived on less than $1 US dollar per day.

The rationale for Florence Chenoweth, Tolbert's minister of agriculture was for rice farmers to increase the production of rice instead of relying on imported rice. The increase in the price of rice called into action Gabriel Baccus Matthews who formed an opposition group called the Progressive Alliance of Liberia (PAL) to the government of Tolbert.

Matthews and PAL called for a peaceful demonstration in Monrovia, and on April 14, 1979 to march on the Executive Mansion to protest the proposed price rise.
April 14, 1979 Liberian rice riots
Matthews and PAL called for a peaceful demonstration in Monrovia, and on April 14, 1979 to march on the Executive Mansion to protest the proposed price rise. However, soon there were nearly 15,000 people who joined the demonstration. The rice protest turned into a one of the largest riots Liberia ever experienced. In 12 hours of violence in the city's streets, ill-trained police officers killed nearly fifty protesters, while more than 500 people were injured.

Chenoweth was replaced as minister of agriculture after admitting publicly that she had erred in proposing the price rise. Tolbert politically flip-flopped and by radio, addressed Liberians reassuring the country the subsidized price of rice would be kept at or below $22 per 100 pounds.

Japan-funded Emergency Rice Project near CARI, Suakoko, Liberia
Rice fields in Suakoko, Liberia

Rice, Liberia's Staple Food

The Ministry of Agriculture in Monrovia, Liberia in May 2012 proposed Liberia to meet a national goal of achieving self-sufficiency by doubling the local rice production by the year 2018. In May 2012, rice in Liberia was cultivated once a year keeping rice crop production very low.


Rice is eaten as breakfast, lunch and dinner in most Liberian households. The current national annual demand for rice in Liberia is approximately 465,000 metric tons while production is estimated at 296,000 metric tons. In 2008, Liberia imported rice at a cost of over $200 million.

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