EU-Funded Project Introduces New Methods to Farmers

(L-r) Members of the Gborfellah Farmers Association in Margibi County harvesting hybrid rice from the integrated rice-fish farm; Partial view of integrated rice-fish ponds at the GFA’s farm in Gborfelleh Margibi County (Photo Credit: George A. Harris).

Agriculture is a primary source of income for approximately 80 percent of Liberia’s population, according to the Liberia Institute of Statistics and Geo-Information Services (LIGIS).

Even though much of the country’s population is involved in farming, agricultural productivity remains low as the country imports almost everything including its staple food rice to feed its growing population. 

But an EU-funded project has sought to change the narrative -- helping farmers to increase production and incomes. The DeSIRA Integrated Rice-Fish Farming System (IRFFS), which is a combination of an integrated rice-fish farming system, has led to the Gborfelleh Farmers Association (GFA), a group comprising 18 farmers, harvesting 0.25 acres of Nerica-L19 rice in variety.

The heaviest, according to Augustine Moore, who heads the group has helped them to shift from cultivation and the practice of harvesting just once in the year to mechanizing farming, where the harvest is three months at most.

“This improved variety takes only three months to mature; we can harvest rice more than three times a year. If you look at it, the addition of [aquaculture] to rice farming is the way to go for us because we will get money by farming all two. This is what I called, ‘taking farmers out of poverty,' Moore added. 

He noted “We don’t have to move from one plot to another anymore. I don’t see that happening because we now have [multiple] sources of income. We have rice, fish and also vegetables. When we are talking about sustainable farming practices for farmers, this is it.”   

The IRFFS, which has helped Moore and his group to improve farm output,  aims to improve food and nutrition security by transforming low-yielding, climate-risky traditional rice-fish production systems into more climate-resilient, high-yielding, resource-use-efficient systems in Liberia.  This involves farmers growing rice and fish together in ponds, which efficiently utilizes the land, saves time, and increases income. In Addition to the project, farmers also grow short maturing vegetables, the inclusion of which is another income-generator.

Farmers in Liberia face many challenges that have kept their production low over the years ranging from the lack of basic farm inputs to a weak extension delivery system, and the lack of incentives to encourage production beyond the subsistence level. 

Dr. Inoussa Akintayo of AfricaRice noted that the new method of farming has a lot of potential not only to improve productivity but to improve the farmers’ lives.

“The burden is on you to make Liberia food secure, and you can make this happen through the knowledge you have received along with the resources that are available to you,” said Akintayo, County Director of AfricaRice.  

He added that the water from the integrated rice-fish ponds serves as fertilizer for the vegetables.   “The water from the fish ponds can serve as a fertilizer because the water contains nutrients that are beneficial to the plants. So farmers do not have to worry about money to buy fertilizers,” said Dr. Akintayo  

Responding to Dr. Akintayo, Moore said that his team has begun the discussion about the possible up-scaling of the integrated rice-fish farming system. 

“We are going to act on this technology without any hesitation because it shows that farmers can have two income sources from just a plot,” said Moore.

Elsewhere, the IRFFS project has gained momentum among students of agriculture at Booker Washington Institute (BWI), located in Kakata, Margibi County. One student, Hellena Kollie, who aspires to become a farmer, said the project has shown her a better way of farming and income-generating activities in the agriculture sector. 

“Agricultural work is labor-intensive, and it does not really pay in Liberia. But what I am learning here says something different. This program shows that there are many ways to make money in the agriculture sector using smart ideas,” said Hellena.   

Additionally, Hellena and other students have benefited from lectures on the integrated rice-fish farming system and career development from agricultural experts working with AfricaRice under the IRFFS project.  

The RIFFS project, which kicked off on the BWI campus in August at the climax of the 2021/22 academic calendar, is expecting its first rice harvest in December and fish harvest in February 2022.

Also, Johnson Smith, an agriculture instructor working with students under the IRFFS project, described the project as an added advantage for the BWI's agriculture program, one that will enhance the horizon of students.  “When these students have walked through the walls of the Booker Washington Institute, they already have an alternative livelihood skill,” Johnson said. 

Through the IRIS project, AfricaRice has upgraded the school’s once-fish ponds to integrated rice-fish ponds. Moreover, AfricaRice has supplied the school’s agriculture department with improved rice seeds and fingerlings for the production of the integrated rice-fish farming system. 

The EU-funded project, which ends in 2023, is implemented by AfricaRice and WorldFish, in collaboration with the Ministry of Agriculture, Central Agricultural Research Institute and the National Fisheries and Aquaculture Authority.

It benefits Gbarpolu, Grand Gedeh, Maryland, Margibi, and River Gee Counties.

The Africa Rice Center (AfricaRice) is a pan-African Center of Excellence for rice research, development, and capacity building. It contributes to reducing poverty, achieving food and nutrition security, and improving the livelihoods of farmers and other rice value-chain actors in Africa by increasing the productivity and profitability of rice-based agri-food systems while ensuring the sustainability of natural resources. 

AfricaRice is one of 15 international agricultural research centers of CGIAR, a global research partnership for a food-secure future. It is also an intergovernmental association of African member countries.