An intensive 2-week rice mills fabrication training that brought local artisans from across the country ended last weekend in Gbarnga, Bong County, with calls for robust measures that would help elevate the agriculture sector. The training is expected to provide a more vibrant level of agriculture in order to ensure economic growth and employment opportunities.
For the past few years, Liberians have been making steady progress in the sector, especially in the areas of production, value addition, empowerment of farmers and marketing, thanks to the immense effort of AfricaRice and other partners. They have made the introduction of new farming technologies the centerpiece (focus) in the country.
“This is the only way progress will be sustainable and profitable for the local farmers and Liberian businesses,” AfricaRice Country Director, Dr. Innousa Akintayo, said at a brief program that marked the close of the training on Saturday.
The objective of the training was to build the capacity of Liberians in agricultural equipment fabrication. The making of local agricultural equipment has become an urgent necessity as imported equipment are difficult to maintain, the AfricaRice Country Director explained.
During the training, participants built improved EngleBert type of rice mill. “This methodology has allowed the participants to fabricate 4 rice mills during the 2 weeks spent together. This achievement deserves to be saluted,” Dr. Akintayo said.
Agriculture is not only capable of spurring economic growth. It could also curb unemployment, especially among youth, he said. “The future of Liberians, especially the youths, lies in a more prosperous Liberia, not in Europe, not in America, not at the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea or languishing in the heat of the Sahara desert,” he said.
“It is unfortunate that thousands of Africans including Liberians are leaving the continent seeking jobs elsewhere. We can curb this unfortunate situation if we multiply this kind of training along agriculture value chain and equip the beneficiaries,” he said.
Empowerment of beneficiaries is AfricaRice and SAPEC’s approach. This will be done as promised and instructed by the African Development Bank (AfDB) task manager, who recently visited the country.
However, Dr. Akintayo noted that AfricaRice and SAPEC’s contribution alone may not be sufficient and hoped other partners will join through support to the government’s development initiative.
The training was necessitated by a baseline study conducted by AfricaRice. The study revealed that women continue to use the mortar in most parts of the country to process rice. “This is not acceptable in the 21st century,” Dr. Akintayo said at the start of the process. “The survey also showed the presence of thousands of imported rice mills in graveyards. Yes, the mills are in the graveyards as they are abandoned and have become useless,” he noted.
The Task Manager under the SAPEC Project at the AfDB was recently in the country and was impressed by what he saw. “He has also urged me to do everything possible to empower you by making available to you selected workshop tools. By doing so, we will make our interventions sustainable. We will make you more useful to the nation because you will be better off and also contribute to agricultural productivity enhancement,” Dr. Akintayo told the participants.
The 20 beneficiaries were considered to have been very fortunate for the training, and were urged to train others who have the skills and passion but were not selected for the training. “Our hope is to see you train those who did not come here with you,” he said.
Liberia’s needs in agriculture and agribusiness are enormous and, according to Dr. Akintayo, those trained must not embrace it alone. “By training others, you are creating more job opportunities, you are contributing to poverty reduction, you are contributing to the agenda that the government is talking about, and you are contributing to the building of a more prosperous Liberia,” he said.
The newly-confirmed Minister of Agriculture, Mogana Flomo, Jr. said technology is at the center of every vibrant agriculture sector; as a result, AfricaRice has embarked on a process that will help make Liberia a fertile soil for productivity and value addition, he maintained.
For his part, SAPEC Project Coordinator, William Kawalawu said “We bring these experts to conduct training because we do not only believe in the independence of Africa but its growth, empowerment, and development. We all know that we cannot be independent if we cannot feed ourselves or afford our basic necessities”. Former Agriculture Minister Moses Zinnah also graced the occasion
The workshop was facilitated by a post-harvest and processing expert from Benin, Dr. Roger Ahounsou, and mechanization expert, Dr. Jean Moreira. Parts for the mills can be collected locally. AfricaRice implemented the venture with funding from the SAPEC Project.