Liberia: New Innovation Boosts Farmers’ Yields and Incomes
--- The system integrates rice production with fish farming using low-risk technologies, and it also uses land efficiently and the shorter production cycle helps boost farmers’ incomes.
Liberia has all the ingredients for a thriving agricultural industry: fertile land, favorable weather patterns, and abundant water resources. Yet, the country still grapples with food insecurity and limited economic growth.
Food insecurity grips the nation as poverty and undernourishment afflict the majority, World Bank statistics show. Over two-thirds of the population face this plight, and the situation is dire.
However, there is a glimmer of hope as the DeSIRA- Integrated Rice Fish Farming System (IRFFS) project is bringing new Innovations to farmers to boost yields and incomes.
“We were into shifting cultivation, and we harvested just once in the year,” Augustine Moore, who has his farm in Margibi County, said. “But with this improved variety taking only three months to mature, we can harvest rice more than three times a year. If you look at it, the addition to growing fish and rice farming is the way to go for us because we will get money by farming all two.”
The 55-year-old, who controls a little over a 15-man farmer team, said he records three harvests per year- equivalent to 5 tons per hectare, since the adoption of IRFFS technology.
Moore says that commitment to achieving desired results is one of the secrets behind the growth of his farm. He further revealed that he started with two integrated rice-fish ponds but has over ten now.
“Commitment to production is the way forward for a farmer to make a better living. What I have achieved is not magic. I put in the time to achieve these results,” he said.
The DeSIRA farming method which has so far been adopted in Gbarpolu, Grand Gedeh, River Gee, Maryland, and Gbarpolu counties is benefiting a number of farmers who now harvest at least twice a year.
The IRFFS project 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.
As a way of improving the country’s food security and farming capacity, the funders and implementers are helping farmers to transform low-yielding rice production into a more climate-resilient and high-yield production model.
The system integrates rice production with fish farming using low-risk technologies, and it also uses land efficiently and the shorter production cycle helps boost farmers’ incomes.
Farmers are given tilapia fingerlings and Nercia-L19 rice seeds to grow in a paddy field. The rice variety has a three-month growing cycle and the tilapia matures within five months. The fish can reach 60 cm in length and 500g on average.
“Before, we were growing only fish, but we adopted this technology after assessing the benefits that it brings. The project team guided us during the construction of the first set of IRFFS ponds,” Patrick Jallah, Deputy Manager of Karsor’s Farm, also located in Margibi said. “We later decided to increase the number of IRFF ponds after we saw that the technology could change the course of our operations for the better.”
The DeSIRA-IRFF project has introduced fast-maturing vegetable cultivation as another income stream for beneficiary farmers in the integrated rice-fish farming system. For instance, farmers grow lettuce and cabbage at the fringe of the ponds and harvest them two to three times while they await the harvest of the rice and fish.
“This is what I called, ‘taking farmers out of poverty.’ We don’t have to move from one plot to another anymore. I really 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,” said Moore.
Like Moore and Kollie, agriculture remains the primary source of income for approximately 80 percent of the country’s population, the Liberia Institute of Statistics and Geo-Information Services (LIGIS) revealed.
Productivity levels in the sector are also low and the country relies on imports for most major commodities. The country imports around 300,000 tons of its staple food - rice - each year, to feed the population.
“This is unacceptable,” the Project Coordinator, who doubles as AfricaRice Country Representative, Dr. Inoussa Akintayo, told the Daily Observer in an interview in 2021. “Liberia has all it takes to become the hub of agricultural activities in the West African and Mano River regions.”
“Arable lands are abundant, rainfall is plentiful and the climate conditions are most of the time favorable. There are a lot of rivers for aquaculture activities,” he said.
However, the distribution of the improved tilapia fingerlings and the Nerica-L19 rice seeds, Akintayo said during the tour over the weekend, is part of efforts to encourage farmers to produce beyond the subsistence level.
He stressed that climate-smart farming methods like the IRFFS technology should be encouraged among farming communities to discourage other activities that could harm the environment.
“We are preparing to improve our living conditions today, but we should also think about the next generation,” said Dr. Akintayo. “Today we have the forest, but the next generation may suffer when we poorly manage what we have now.”
He also noted that IRFFS is an effort aimed at curbing the impact of climate change on food production.
The project also has a variety of labor-saving equipment that reduces farmers’ workload and accelerates their productivity.
The Agro-Mechanic and Processing Specialist of the project, Dr. Ahouansou Roger disclosed that plans are underway to train farmers on the operations and maintenance of the locally fabricated equipment, which include power tillers, moldboard plows, disk plows, rakes, driving seats. Others are drum seeders, upland seeders, and rice harvesters.
Providing statistics on the project so far, Communication Specialist, George A. Harris, in a presentation disclosed that there has been an increase in the consumption, production level of beneficiary households regarding fish and rice.
“Study of the availability of fish and rice among beneficiaries in 2020, the start year of the project, shows that household members consumed 7 kilograms of fish and 104 kilograms of rice. But this has increased to 9 kg fish and 124 rice since the beneficiaries adopted the IRFFS,” Harris said.
In terms of the production of fish and rice under the project, while they were producing 1 ton of rice per hectare, it increased to 4.5 tons in 2023, and from 0.5 tons per hectare to 2 tons per hectare under the new method.
There is also an increase in the production adopted by households, especially among women and youths, he said.
“With no women-headed households involved in the new farming innovation in 2020, the number of women who adopted the practice had increased to 170 in 2023, though only 99 were being targeted under the project,” he noted.
There are a total of 174 young people involved, far exceeding the 66 that the project had initially targeted.
The IRFFS is also a climate-smart technology that discourages deforestation and encourages sustainable land use, such as wetlands. It is contributing to or improves carbon repossession, land restoration, biodiversity conservation, and soil and land productivity while at the same time evaluating the social economic aspect of forest preservation on livelihood development.
Multi-national organizations AfricaRice and WorldFish are implementing the initiative in partnership with the National Fisheries and Aquaculture Authority (NaFAA), Central Agricultural Research Institute (CARI), and the Ministry of Agriculture (MoA).
The innovative IRFFS, the stakeholders believe, will not only catapult farmers out of poverty but also sustainable farming practices initiatives.