In an effort to buttress the Liberian government’s food security drive, the Liberian Initiative for Feeding Everyone (LIFE Liberia), a Christian local non-governmental organization (NGO), has supported several smallholder rice farmers to develop 76 acres of lowland with an improved rice variety.
The lowland rice project, which is now mature for harvest, is situated in Dokodan Camp Number One, Bain-garr Administrative District, Electoral District # 2, Nimba County.
The founder of Life Liberia, former Lutheran Bishop Rev. Dr. D. Jensen Seyenkulo, told the Daily Observer last week in an exclusive interview during a one-day visit on the farm that the rice, when harvested, will be processed and sold on the local market at affordable prices.
The project comes at a time when the nation is still struggling to increase domestic rice production. Liberia spends nearly US$200 million annually to import rice to ensure food security for its citizens. In 2022, there was an acute shortage of rice on the market for several weeks. And currently, the price of imported rice on the local market has increased due to the global food crisis. .
The establishment of LIFE Liberia
In September last year, the Lutheran church in Liberia (LCL) partnered with three other ecumenical denominations, Episcopal, Methodist, and Baptist to sign a memorandum of understanding that launched the LIFE Liberia project.
The main goal of the project is to help reduce Liberia’s dependency on rice.
Former Lutheran Bishop, Rev. Dr. D. Jensen Seyenkulo’s recent visit to the LIFE Liberia project.
“Now it is time we can feed ourselves and the nation. We have rich soil, abundant rainfall, and enough sunshine. We are too old to continue to let other people decide what we eat, and when to eat it,” says former Lutheran Bishop Seyenkulo, during the launch of the project last year in Monrovia.
Rev. Fr. Wozeyan Bazzie, Chairman for the Standing Committee of the Episcopal Church of Liberia, says Liberia’s continuous importation of vegetables and other food crops is sad.
“It’s enough that we take action. With the coming of this project, there will be employment for many rural citizens. Though there will be challenges, let us not be deterred,” Rev. Fr. Bazzie said.
LIFE’s partnership with Dokodan farmers
The project initiated by LIFE Liberia is designed to support smallholder rice farmers who are members of the Dokodan Cooperative and other farmers in the future with improved rice seed varieties, fertilizers, and other farming inputs, as well as to ensure that the rice produced by the farmers is purchased, processed, and sold on the local market.
The Dokodan Cooperative has turned over the rice processing facility donated to them by international partners to LIFE Liberia to manage, through a formal agreement to ensure processing opportunities for the farming communities.
The facility is housed in a building with integrated rice milling equipment procured with funding from USAID. The equipment has the capacity to produce 1 metric ton of rice per hour. It is one of several industrial rice milling facilities that the country can now boost to ensure the availability of local rice for the market.
According to the vision bearer of LIFE Liberia, Bishop Seyenkulo, LIFE Liberia is currently piloting the rice project for a period of three years and will extend the agreement based on the success of the current intervention.
Seyenkulo said they were targeting 2,000 acres but were only able to cultivate 76 acres at the moment, and they also intend to work with other farmers in the nearby communities to purchase their rice for processing.
“We support the farmers with seed, fertilizers, and other farming tools, and the farmers grow the rice, which we will buy to process for the market. We also intend to work with other farmers in the nearby communities,” he explained.
He said they intend to supply quality processed local rice in market places like Ganta, Sanniquellie, and Gbarnga.
“We want to own a share of the market and grow fast enough to compete with the imported rice. We can’t stop the sale of imported rice on those markets now because we still lack the means. But it is disastrous that we can’t feed ourselves. Therefore, we hope that this project will help contribute immensely toward the improvement of food security,” the Bishop stated.
However, he mentioned that the greatest challenge that he sees about agriculture in Liberia is the doubtfulness of many Liberians that the country could feed itself.
“Our greatest challenge is the doubt by many that we can feed ourselves. But we hope that those who have the means can support us. People need to believe that the private sector is capable of the transformation we need for agriculture,” the former Lutheran Bishop explained.
“We, as the church, God has not only mandated us to preach to the world, but we are here to meet the needs of the people in a holistic way,” he added.
The Bishop has meanwhile called on the entire Christian community to join the government to solve the food problem facing the country.
Dokodan farmers’ impression about the project
Beneficiaries of the project have expressed great enthusiasm about the LIFE Liberia project within the community. They told this reporter that the project was introduced at a time when they were faced with the challenge of accessing inputs and marketing their paddy rice.
“We are very happy about the introduction of this project because we have someone to buy our rice to get money to support our families. I have cultivated one acre. Before, we had a lot of challenges. But this project has provided us with cash to cultivate our farms, and they are going to buy the rice we have grown. We were provided with fertilizer and seed,” said Nya Quee, a farmer.
However, Nya noted that there was a need for the project to ensure that farming inputs, particularly the provision of seed and cash to farmers, are done in a timely manner to avoid late planting.
The Dokodan Farmers’ Cooperative Society is one of the oldest cooperatives in the country. Since the end of the Liberian civil war, members of the cooperative have benefited from a lot of assistance from international partners, but it seemed as though the interventions were not sustainable.
The rice field is still not well irrigated, thus bringing about the problem of flooding during the farming season that negatively affects the yield of the farmers.
Over the years, many calls have been made by the farmers to the government to see reason to reconstruct the dam so as to enable them to produce rice in two cropping seasons, but such an appeal has yet to come to fruition.
Marcus Kerkula, an experienced youth farmer, underscored the need for the government to support LIFE Liberia in achieving its goal of feeding the nation.
“We want the government to support LIFE Liberia to rehabilitate the dam. This dam has been damaged for a very long time. Because the dam is not yet reconstructed we have a problem with not producing more rice for the market. Many times, due to the climatic conditions, we experience heavy floods that damage most of the rice during the farming season. We also want the government to support the organization with equipment to enable us to mechanize to feed the mill,” Macus said.