Liberia: In Gbarpolu, Women Unite to Beat Low Food Productivity

Women withdrawing fish from a net.

In Yangayah Town, Gbarma District in Gbarpolu County, the aspiration of making the town a fish hub is even more possible than in the past few months as women farmers generated L$60,000 as a result of selling fish from their ponds.

This is due to an EU-supported project, the DeSIRA-Integrated Rice Fish Farming System (IRFFS) project.  Fatu Kabah, Chairlady of the women farmers group, summed up their journey as one of endurance and hard work. 

“At first, the work was too [intensive] for us. We helped the men haul dirt to build the ponds and cleared the ponds. Some people even gave up,” Fatu narrated. “But I kept encouraging others not to give up. I told them that some good [endeavors] are difficult from the beginning, and that is what we have seen today.”

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the Ministry of Agriculture (MoA) also witnessed the celebration. The success of the women farmers has also suggested that the novel IRFF technology could become a beacon of economic empowerment for locals in the county. 

Life before the IRFFS introduction

Residents in the town solely survive on activities such as artisanal mining and dynamite fishing in rivers, unsustainable logging, hunting of wild animals, and shifting agriculture practices. 

However, these activities have been sternly condemned by troops of advocates, including scientists of different disciplines — stating that activities practiced could deplete natural resources and destroy the forest biodiversity. The introduction of the integrated rice-fish farming system (IRFFS) to Gbarpolu County is an alternative livelihood activity aiming to capture the attention of the locals, said Dr. Inoussa Akintayo, Coordinator of the EU-funded DeSIRA-IRFFS project.   

Akintayo, who also served as Country Representative of AfricaRice, one of the lead implementing partners of the DeSIRA-IRFFS project, described the project as a work that considers the concerns of advocates, and development partners and specifically supports SDGs 2, 5, 13, and 15.

“Today, the impact of climate change is right before our eyes, and it is upon us [men] to act swiftly before it is too late for everyone. This project has introduced technology combined with sophisticated inputs that can make farmers thrive despite climate change. This makes our intervention climate-smart,” Akintayo said. “With the IRFFS technology, there is no need to cut down forest trees to grow rice and put chemicals in rivers to capture fish. You can have fish and rice without harming our environment.” 

Also, Akintayo launched the sale of the fish immediately after harvest, but with a caveat to women farmers that they should not allow complacency to sink in. 

“Today’s result is great and, on behalf of all the implementing partners of this project, I want to say that we are proud of you. But be warned that success has a way of making some comfortable to the degree that they stop improving. I say ‘NO’, let it not be the case for you people. This harvest has shown you all that your future is bright. I hope you will continue this, and we are here to guide you through.” 

Improving food and nutrition security 

Akintayo further added that the project also seeks to mitigate the impact of nutrition deficiency and food insecurity on the Liberian population, besides creating an opportunity for farmers to increase their profits. 

“The project strategized to achieve its goals by transforming low-yielding, climate-risky traditional rice-fish production systems into more climate-resilient, high-yielding, resource-use efficient systems in Liberia,” he said.

The DeSIRA Integrated Rice Fish Farming System (IRFFS) project aims to improve food and nutrition security and ensure that farmers increase their production and income.  According to Liberia Food Security and Post-Harvest Assessment, approximately 2.4 million people are moderately or severely food insecure. However, the discovery is yet to be endorsed by the Liberian government. 

Joseph Matthew, Representative of Gbarma District, Gbarpolu County, lauded the contributions of the EU’s project to improving food and nutrition security. 

“Today, I am very excited to see how the women have responded following my discussion with them about the importance of this project and what benefits it incurs for them. A big thank you to our development partners and the ministries and agencies working to implement this project. I can assure you that the women of Yangayah will make us all proud. We want to make Yangayah a fish hub, and it is possible,” said Rep. Matthew.  

AfricaRice and World Fish, in collaboration with the Ministry of Agriculture (MoA), National Fisheries and Aquaculture Authority (NaFAA), and the Central Agricultural Research Institute (CARI) are implementing the EU-funded DeSIRA Integrated Rice Fish Farming System project in Gbarpolu, Grand Gedeh, River Gee, Margibi, and Maryland Counties.