COVID-19 might have brought the world to its knees, devastating every aspect of humanity with the agricultural sector being no exception. But in Liberia, while the virus has diminished agricultural activity, the sector is surely not dead.
As a way of keeping the agric sector alive, the government of Liberia, with support from the European Union, brought into being DeSIRA, a smart and innovative agricultural initiative intended to spur productivity in the sector.
And gladly, the dividends from this initiative are now visible, as the project implementer, AfricaRice, last week performed its maiden harvest of the rice at its demonstration site at the Central Agriculture Research Institute (CARI) in Suakoko, Bong County.
The Africa Rice Center, popularly known as (AfricaRice), a pan-African intergovernmental association and a Research organization, and WorldFish have been implementing the project, which is aimed at transforming high risk climatic traditional production system into more climatic resilient, high-yielding resource use efficient system. It is to last for a period of 36 months, at a budget of 3.5 million Euros.
AfricaRice Country Director, Dr. Inoussa Akintayo, said at the launch of the harvest on Thursday that he is grateful the project is being implemented smoothly as it achieves its goals. “I’m glad that we have reached this level. It has not been easy. Liberian farmers deserve better and this project will ensure that they get the best,” he added.
The rice, fish and vegetable crops, which are being integrated at the site, are doing well and the first harvest, according to Dr. Akintayo, is a sign of better things to come.
DeSIRA, which is geared towards improving food security, nutrition and income in rural Liberia, came into being through an MOU between the government, represented by the Ministry of Agriculture and the National Fisheries and Aquaculture Authority (NaFAA) and AfricaRice. It focuses on rice, fish and vegetable integration. The MOU was cemented months ago in Monrovia with the signatures of the heads of MOA, Madam Jennie Cooper; NAFAA, Emma Metieh Glassco and AfricaRice, Dr. Inoussa Akintayo.
Dr. Akintayo disclosed that the integrated rice and fish farmers are the primary direct beneficiaries of the project and will benefit directly through access to research, innovations and technologies that will improve the sustainability and productivity of their products.
The project is to be implemented in five counties, namely Grand Gedeh, Maryland, Gbarpolu, Margibi, and Rivergee counties and will target three hundred sixty-five rural smallholder farmers. The seedlings from the demonstration site at CARI will be distributed to farmers in the project counties, the AfricaRice boss noted at the launch of the harvest.
Sixty percent targeted farmers will be women inclusive householders/families to build on their roles as food producers and ensuring food and nutrition of their families.
This project will draw on the initial lessons learned from the FAO AfricaRice, WorldFish, and other research organizations. The project implementers also aim to adapt improved rice-fish systems technologies and better management practices in Liberia, together with the National Agriculture Research Extension Systems (NARES), the private sector and other donor-funded projects.
According to Dr. Akintayo, farmers are to benefit from climate change, resilient rice varieties and modern land preparation techniques and technologies.
An official of NAFAA, Johnson Yarkpawolo, helped to launch the harvest. He expressed gladness that the project is being implemented successfully. “This is meant to improve food security in our country and we are happy that it is going on smoothly despite the distraction from COVID-19.”
Mr. Yarkpawolo called on the farmers to take advantage of the new innovation and technologies that are being introduced as those would help to improve their outputs and family incomes. “DeSIRA is a great way to make money and we are hoping that our farmers will take advantage of it. If you want to increase your yield and your income, you’ve got to take advantage of this,” he said.
The launch of the “DeSIRA” rice harvest was graced by scores of local farmers from Bong County who had come to get abreast of the new technologies that are at work at the CARI demonstration site. The farmers were invited by AfricaRice to see new innovations that they could take back home and help improve their farming systems for better yields.
“This is my very first time seeing what the people are doing here. I have never seen rice, fish and vegetables to be grown together,” Leemu Kpadeh of Gbartala said. “This is a new and a good idea and I think I need to take it back home.”
She said it is an efficient way of making a livelihood. “With this system, we can grow what all you want together. You can get your fish, soup and rice right on the same farm; you don’t have to struggle to go places in search of each. I think we the rural farmers need to take advantage of this system. It will help us,” Madam Kpadeh noted.
Jackson Kollie of Suakoko was more grateful to AfricaRice for always bringing new farming ideas to farmers in the country. “AfricaRice is really helping farmers in this country. They are helping to reduce the level of hard work that we do from day to day. Dr. Akintayo and his team continue to bring new ideas that are helping to improve our farm work
Formerly known as the West Africa Rice Development Association (WARDA), AfricaRice has been active in the agriculture sector from the 1980s. Since the end of the Liberian civil crisis, the organization has been more focused on innovation and technology in the agriculture sector in Liberia.
They have since been involved in the production of labor saving equipment such as rice seeders/planters, rice reapers, harvesters, threshers, weeders and parboilers. “The equipment are produced by local technicians for our farmers. You know agriculture is labor intensive so there is a need that the country transitions to mechanized farming and this is the process that we are on,” Dr. Akintayo added.
The introduction of these technologies, according to AfricaRice, has been to unlock the potential of sector so that farmers can produce more food, especially rice, which is the country’s staple.
Meanwhile, the project also intends to increase household incomes by next year and increased gender equality outcomes, such as increase in the number of women owning ponds, cultivating fish and rice, as well as controlling the incomes generated from rice and fish sales.
This new smart and innovative approach to agriculture is also serving as an enrichment program for both lecturers and students of both secondary and tertiary learning institutions. Instructors and students from Cuttington University and nearby high schools troop here in their numbers to get a glance of the new innovation—here they get a favorable reception from staffs who drill them through the processes.
Some of the students told the Daily Observer that they are planning to implement the new innovation on their various campuses the next academic school year.