— Assisting farmers to develop 100 hectares lowland field for seed multiplication
Access to improved seed rice varieties still remains a serious challenge for the rice sub sector of Liberia. Many smallholder rice farmers also lack the skills and technologies in lowland rice cultivation.
As a result of the situation, the low productivity in the rice sector persists, causing the country to depend on rice imports to ensure food security year-over-year.
That being said, the Liberian government through the Ministry of Agriculture aims to scale up the production of rice to supply the market. For instance smallholder farmers in Garwula, Electoral District # 2, Grand Cape Mount County, are said to be adopting the technologies of lowland rice to improve their incomes and to supply the market. The farmers are beneficiaries of the Smallholder Agriculture Transformation Agribusiness Revitalization Project (STAR-P), a World Bank funded project of the Ministry of Agriculture (MoA).
They have currently embarked on the harvest of 100 hectares of lowland rice in the community for seed rice distribution. It is expected to put money into the pockets of the farmers as there are plans for the Agriculture Ministry to purchase the proceeds.
Rice is Liberia’s main staple but the country is yet to produce more to supply the market. Hence the Liberian government is obliged to subsidize importation.
Liberia has suffered a rice shortage recently thereby having President George M. Weah to constitute a rice stabilization taskforce to derive measures for the availability of the commodities on the market.
Though the Ministry of Agriculture supports smallholder rice farmers to increase production, the prevailing circumstances of the current rice issue appears to make the MoA step up with gains in the sector.
“This is just one of those many sites that the Ministry intends to support farmers to scale up the production of rice to reduce importation. We support the farmers with improved technologies and inputs such as fertilizers and farm machines to improve their productivity,” said Steve Marvie, Operations Manager, STAR-P.
Marvie made the statement to journalists during the launch of the 100 hectares rice field harvest.
According to him, the STAR project intends to improve the productivity of Liberian farmers by empowering them with grants, and inputs to supply more rice on the market.
“We’re trying to find a way to get more food on the market. This rice project is building on other project initiatives with support from development partners. We are getting the community to get involved in agricultural development. The farmers were supported with machines and fertilizers to make the project a success. We understand the challenges and we intend to mobilize all of the resources to support the farmers in the next farming season. We had a chance to address the issue of irrigation and some of the challenges facing the farmers,” he explained.
Marvie said that the project is also supporting rice processors to ensure processing opportunities for the farmers in rice producing counties.
According to him, some processors have obtained grants from the project to improve their businesses.
“The Minister of Agriculture’s vision is to use this site for seed rice multiplication. The goal is to ensure that other farmers within this country have access to seed to plant on their farms,” he explained.
The rice farm is owned by 50 farmers, majority of whom are women farmers within the communities.
Few months back, the farmers began developing the land and were assisted with improved rice seed varieties. They were also provided with power tillers and other farming implements to enable them to cultivate the land.
Bendu Kenneh, lead farmer, told journalists during the harvest that they were happy to get support from the Ministry to grow rice in the community to feed their families.
“We have learned to grow rice in the lowland. When we harvest this rice we are looking to the Ministry to buy from us to empower us to support our families. Everyone is encouraged to come together and make a farm in one place,” Bendu said.
She said that though the farming season was challenging they are determined to cooperate with the Ministry to expand production during the next farming season.
“This farm is very productive if we are provided with an irrigation system to enable us to produce more. We are encouraging all the people within the nearby communities to join us to grow the food we need for the nation,” Bendu told journalists.
According to Bendu, they expect to start the production of vegetables after the rice harvest.
The harvest was attended by workers of the Ministry of Agriculture project implementation unit staff.
The Crop Development Specialist, Moses Zolue, said that the project is designed to scale up new technologies in order to improve the lives of the farmers.
“We are bringing people from different communities so that the country can reduce rice imports. The farmers were just broadcasting the rice. But they were taught how to grow rice to get higher yields. We are also trying to avoid the issues of protecting the environment. The farmers are adopting the concept of low land cultivation within the communities,” he mentioned.