Liberia: EU, GOL Laud AfricaRice for Successful DeSIRA Project

From plot to plate and unto placement (market)

 ….Ambassador Delahousse says funds were well spent

AfricaRice, a pan-African Center of Excellence for rice research, development and capacity building, has been hailed for a successful implementation of the European Union (EU)-funded DeSIRA-Integrated Rice Fish Farming System (IRFFS) project.

The EU, which financed the 3,5M Euros project, said it is impressed by the level of work that AfricaRice, the lead project implementing partner, did with the farmers. 

“My feelings about this project are a feeling of satisfaction,” outgoing EU Ambassador Laurent Delahousse, said a few months ago after touring Karsor Farm, one of the project sites located in Margibi County. 

“This is a very successful venture and is an initiative that is now being led by private farmers. And this is the most satisfying aspect of the project because we want the private sector—our farmers to lead this venture. And so I want to be grateful to AfricaRice for making this work.”

Delahouse, who was accompanied on that trip by the Ambassadors of France, Michel Leroux; Germany, H. Jacob; Sweden, Urban Sjöstrom, among others, added, “AfricaRice has impressed me. They are doing a great job and I hope we can sign another tier of cooperation with this organization.”

Other implementing partners of the IRFFS project include WorldFish, Ministry of Agriculture (MOA), Central Agricultural Research Institute (CARI), and the National Fisheries and Aquaculture Authority (NaFAA).

The three-year project, which came to a close in July, successfully harnessed cutting-edge practices to transform conventional farming methods. The new technology or agriculture techniques, which involve growing rice along with fish in the same ponds, and growing short term varieties and advanced irrigation systems, is elevating agricultural productivity to unprecedented levels among farmers who have adopted the method.

Farmers yield is also higher, up from two tons per hectare to about four-five tons per hectare. The Nile breed of tilapia, which matures in five months and can grow up to 60cm, was also introduced under the project.

In addition to rice and fish, farmers in the five project counties (Gbarpolu, Grand Gedeh, Maryland, Margibi, and River Gee), also grow vegetables such as cucumbers, lettuce,tomato and eggplants that mature faster and are therefore less impacted by climate change.

The IRFFS project marked a turning point for countless farming families. The innovation-driven transformation not only improved crop productivity but also increased overall household income. Many beneficiaries reported increased financial stability, allowing them to support their families and improve their standard of living. Beyond economic gains, the project also fostered a sense of pride and renewed hope for the farming community, re-establishing agriculture as a prosperous and respected profession.

“With what I’m seeing, the EU money put into this project has been well spent,” Delahouse said. “I’m absolutely convinced about that. We are very satisfied with the manner in which the project has been implemented. AfricaRice did a splendid job. It has been a pleasure working with a trustworthy partner and enthusiastic communities. This has been one of the keys to the success of the project,” he said.

The EU is also excited that it is contributing to Liberia’s development in such a meaningful way.

“This is one of the best projects we have had, and we are very happy that it is making such an impact in the lives of the people,” Dr. Geertrui Louwagie said in Suacoco, Bong County on August 8, at a ceremony that officially saw the project brought to a close. 

Louwagie noted that though the project has ended, the EU will continue to help Liberia in many other ways.

The government hailed the IRFFS project as one of the most successful projects implemented in the agricultural sector in the country’s recent history. “This is one of the best, if not the best project, I have seen in over twenty years of my career in the agricultural sector in the West African region,” Deputy Minister of Agriculture, Dr. George Forpoh, said at the closing ceremony.

“By synergizing rice and fish farming, we have witnessed a surge in agricultural productivity and income diversification for our hardworking farmers,” he said. 

“Not only have yields increased, but we have also witnessed enhanced nutrition and improved access to protein-rich diets in our communities.

Forpoh then pledged the government commitment to promote the integration of the project farming model across the country to drive sustainable development in the agricultural sector.

“I’m glad that we are celebrating the success stories of those who have embraced this approach, the dedicated farmers whose resilience and determination continue to propel Liberia forward,” he said. “These achievements served as a beacon of hope and inspiration, motivating us to further expand and amplify the impact of this transformative initiative.”

Forpoh’s boss, Agriculture Minister Jannie Cooper, is also a big fan of the IRFFS innovation which has had a great impression on her.  She was impressed by the outcomes of the project during a tour of the demonstration site in Gbarnga, Bong County in 2021.

“AfricaRice is doing a great job and I’m grateful for what is happening here,” the minister told the Daily Observer during that tour. “This is what we want to see in the sector. And I strongly believe this is setting the stage for better things to come.”

She expressed excitement that everything in the project, (the cages, fish feed, machines and others), is locally made.

Having the rice and fish together is the most interesting part to the minister, who noted: “The two are rolled out together. So you have your rice and fish side by side. This will improve income and create a sustainable nutrition value for most Liberian households and it would do far better if we invest more,” she said.

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. 

“This is what the project was meant to change,” AfricaRice Country Manager, Inoussa Akintayo Akintayo, said. “Rice and fish are a staple diet for Liberians, but despite favorable conditions and huge potentials, the nation continues to depend on importation.”

“IRFFS was conceived to solve problem. Though some considered us as dreamers at the time because they did not believe that rice and fish could grow together, but here we are,” Akintayo, also Coordinator of the IRFFS project,  told guests at the closing ceremony.

Liberia, he said, has the potential to become an agriculture hub in the Mano River region, citing the country’s soil, rivers, and the climate, which he argued gave Liberia a competitive advantage.

“This country does not have to import anything; the government just needs to invest in its farmers and we all will see the dividends,” Akintayo said.

Meanwhile, the project has ignited a spark within the farming communities, kindling a desire for continued innovation and progress. Farmers are eagerly anticipating the next phase of the project, looking forward to expanding their knowledge, integrating more advanced technologies, and seeking further improvements in their agricultural practices.

The initiative stands as a remarkable achievement, revolutionizing the agricultural landscape and instilling hope in the hearts of farmers. This visionary project has redefined what is possible within the realm of agriculture by enhancing productivity, empowering farmers, and promoting sustainability. 

“This project has been a blessing to us farmers. It has improved our yields and revenue. People are now starting to respect us as farmers,” the most outstanding farmer out of the over 300 households beneficiaries, Augustine Moore, said.