Liberia: Time for Liberia to ‘Go Back to Feeding Itself’

An aerial view of integrated rice-fish ponds constructed under the EU-funded DeSIRA-Integrated Rice Fish Farming System project


...EU Ambassador Delahouse says, but emphasizes that huge investment needed in Agric sector

Liberia can change its narrative of being a net importer of its staple food, which is putting a strain on the country’s foreign exchange rate, EU Ambassador Laurent Delahousse says. 

Delahousse’s position comes as the country spends over US$200 million annually on importing rice, even though it is naturally endowed with fertile land.   

The problem is compounded by years of government neglect of investment in mechanized farming, which has hindered any serious efforts to promote food self-sufficiency and also an exporter of agricultural products.

“The role of the Liberian government is important because clearing the land is something that is very difficult,” Delahousse said after touring a site of the Integrated Rice Fish Farming System (IRFFS) project in Margibi County. 

“The Ministry of Finance has said a lot of good things in that regard, and I hope that all stakeholders involved  can work together to take agriculture to another level because Liberia needs to feed herself.”  

The EU envoy noted that  farmers in Liberia want to be successful but they face significant challenges which cannot be solved alone.  

He named capacity and the financial resources as two of the major obstacles holding the country’s agriculture sector from realizing its full potential. 

Delahousse also noted that the government needs to be strategic about rice production, as “rice cannot be grown everywhere.” 

“It is all about finding the best place so that at last Liberia can go back to feeding itself. There are counties which are more conducive for rice production than others. Lofa is a great example,” Delahousse says.  “That was the reality of the past but with the civil war, the traditional structure of agriculture has been really reduced. But we are working with the government to fix that and grow back with time when Liberians feed themselves.”

The EU-backed IRFFS project, which Delahousse was touring in Margibi, is being implemented by the NGOs AfricaRice and WorldFish. The project uses an improved rice variety (Nerica-L19), which has a three-month growing period which is better than the 9-month rice growing period in Liberia. 

The yield of the improved variety is also higher, up from two tons per hectare to about four-five tons per hectare. They also use the Nile breed of tilapia that matures in five months and can grow up to 60cm. The tilapia weighs five kilograms on average when matured.

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, and eggplants that mature faster and are therefore less impacted by climate change.

Delahousse sees this new climate resilient farming method as Liberia’s gateway to self-sufficiency in food production but says the EU is not in the position to support the country’s agriculture sector forever.

“So a successful project is a project where development support is not needed anymore. That is the idea with this project that AfricaRice is implementing,” he says.  

“This is meant to train farmers in order for them to replicate. The government of Liberia now takes over the financing of what needs to be financed by the government and the rest of them by the private farmers,” he said. “This is supposed to be a larger commercial venture that investors can put money in.”

Augustine Moore threshing his harvested rice with the help of a locally made rice thresher provided by AfricaRice.  (Credit: William Q. Harmon)

The most outstanding farmer out of the 95 beneficiaries is Augustine Moore, whose farm is situated in the Gborferhla area, a fifteen-minute drive from Kakata.  

The 54-year-old farmer’s project is a destination of marvel for passers-by. Moore boasts of eight integrated rice-fish ponds on his farm. It is an achievement only he has made under the IRFFS project.

“When AfricaRice gave me the improved fingerlings and rice and told me that the rice matures in 100 days and the fish is 150, I knew that it was my time to graduate to another level,” Moore told the Daily Observer in an interview last year. 

He said commitment to achieve desired results is one of the secrets behind the growth of his farm.

However, the IRFFS project, which has helped change Moore’s life, is expiring next month, with the EU unable to make any additional investment. According to them the responsibility now rests on the government to replicate the project in all 15 counties.

According to Delahousse, the project makes a lot of economic sense as it expands farmers’ income as they  get twice as much produce for the same quantity of work and investment.

“It also makes sense in terms of nutrition because you get your protein as well as the rice… it makes sense in so many different ways. It is not difficult to replicate. This is absolutely great.

“The project is expiring in July. There will be a government after the elections, maybe a new government or maybe the old government, I don’t know,” Delahousse noted. “It is the decision of the Liberian people to make. It is the responsibility of the government and the people of Liberia to pick the right priorities for the advancement of the country.

“That is a political decision for the government, but whatever the decision is, we the development partners will be here to support them. We are here to support the decisions that are taken by and for the people of Liberia through their democratically elected leaders,” he added. 

Dr. Inoussa Akintayo, AfricaRice Country Representative, agreed with Delahousse that Liberia has the potential to become an agriculture hub in the Mano River region.

“Liberia has a lot of potential that, when utilized, can make this country a great agricultural country,” Akintayo noted. “The soil, the rivers, the climate are all advantages that Liberia has to be great. This country does not have to import anything; the government just needs to invest in its farmers and we all will see the dividends.”

He expressed excitement that the farmers are very enthusiastic about picking up new IRFFS methods, and working tirelessly to feed their own population.

Agriculture Minister Cooper was also impressed by the outcomes of the project. During a tour of the demonstration site in Gbarnga, Bong County in 2021, she lauded AfricaRice for the innovations put into the project. She noted, “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 feeds, machines and others), is locally made. She paid tribute to Dr. Akintayo for his insightful innovations.

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 told the Daily Observer.

The project also has a mechanization component, easing tedious labor that the farmers endure yearly.   

AfricaRice-provides power tillers to till the soil faster and better seeding machines speed up the planting process.  Post-harvest machines such as harvesters, grinder, threshers, parboiler and others are also provided to farmers under the project.