— As center receives praises at National Agricultural Fair
Stakeholders in the agriculture sector last week converged at the Central Agricultural Research Institute (CARI) in Suakoko, Bong County, at the National Agriculture Fair where farmers from across the country displayed their produce.
Also on display were appreciable levels of value addition made from what the farmers producing.
The fair also unveiled honest efforts that farmers are making despite the enormous constraints they encounter daily in their endeavors. Nevertheless, the produce on display at the fair clearly showed the progressive direction the sector is heading.
However, many who attended the fair had no idea that beyond those catchy exhibitions on the main compound of CARI, there exists a project that has the potential to transform agriculture in Liberia and set it on the path of growth and sustainability.
The DeSIRA Integrated Rice-Fish Farming System (IRFS) project is situated a stone’s throw from the main offices of CARI. Implemented by the AfricaRice Center and World Fish with funding from the European Union, the project seeks to develop sustainably integrated, climate-smart rice-fish production systems and develop successful extension service delivery systems.
With the needed support and investment, this farming method and its accompanying innovations, according to experts, can solve Liberia’s food insecurity and nutritional problems in a few years.
It is geared towards improving food security, nutrition and wealth creation, especially for rural farmers. The Ministry of Agriculture (MOA), the National Fisheries and Aquaculture Authority (NaFAA) and CARI are collaborating with the implementers on the project.
President George Weah, who graced the fair, might have failed to show up at DeSIRA project site after fervent efforts from Agriculture Minister, Jeanine M. Cooper and AfricaRice Country Representative, Dr. Innousa Akintayo, but the site attracted scores of other high profile dignitaries who lauded the implementers being amazed by what they saw.
Those dignitaries included United Nations Resident Coordinator, Neils Scott; EU Ambassador, Laurent Delahousse; UNDP Resident Representative, Stephen Rodriques; French Ambassador, Michael Roux; and the team leader at GROW-Liberia, Umar Mohammed, among others.
The visiting delegates were taken on a guided tour of the project and given an understanding of the initiative and how it would affect the agric sector.
They were ferried to an innovative technological fishpond, known as the Floating Cage, with capacities to host 40,000 fish, each, in a safe, secure and eco-friendly environment on a man-made lake at CARI. They also visited fields where rice and fish are being grown side by side.
Resident Coordinator Scott said the DeSIRA project provides a clear understanding as to where agriculture is and should be heading in Liberia—innovation.
“So what we see here is an excellent example of how you can change the dynamics of agriculture with not so huge an investment, but by using innovations and enterprising approach, and by making sure the profile of the sector changes,” Coordinator Scott said.
With the level of innovations AfricaRice has put in the project, he believes the agriculture sector would change rapidly. “And this is on the basis of what we are seeing here today. We fully support the government on this. And we really look forward to results with gratitude to people who are behind these exquisite innovations.”
Scott hopes the project is taken to other parts of the country. “This is not only by using innovative means and having regard for production but post-harvest and value addition.
The UN head termed the display at the site as a fundamental message to President George Weah that the sector has a direction that he and his government need to look at critically.
“We at the UN fully support this. We will be supporting reasonable investments at every stage in the sector as we have been doing,” he said.
Mr. Scott added that the UN has also been supporting the sector but that has been in the context of the government’s Pro-poor Agenda for Prosperity and Development (PAPD).
“But from what we have seen here, the emphasis will be increasing focus on implementation and production,” he noted, adding that in order to achieve the PAPD, the population needs to benefit increasing from the production of agriculture—moving Liberians from subsistence to mechanized farming model.
An impressed Agriculture Minister, Jeanine M. Cooper, 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, the fish feeds, machines and others), is locally made. She paid tribute to Dr. Akintayo for his insightful innovations. “This project is an innovation of Dr. Akintayo.” Having the rice and fish together is the most interest part to the minister, who noted, “The two are rolled out together. So you have your rice and fish side by side.”
Minister Cooper was even more fascinated about the Floating Cage. “Fishes are growing in cages, depicting that Liberia’s potential for aquaculture is enormous,” she said.
Each of the floating cages contains over ten thousand fish—at times growing to one and a half or two pounds in just six months. “This is a huge business opportunity. We have eleven large rivers across the country where this can be replicated and it will bring us huge dividends,” the minister, who has since described the project as her favorite, said.
“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 said.
She disclosed that NAFAA has a plan to map suitable areas for such project across the country that that the farmers can be aware.
Considering the country’s vast agric potentials, EU Ambassador said Liberia now stands at a crossroad to put itself on the map relative to the production and exportation of agricultural products as was done in the 1970s.
He noted at the opening of the NAF that with implementing partners, the EU has and continues to be active in the value chain of both staple and cash crops. “We also fund activities that are innovative for Liberians such as the DeSIRA project that is piloted here at CARI.
The Ambassador had hoped that President weah was going to pay a visit to the site to see firsthand the enormous work that is ongoing.
He lauded the initiators of the NAF, which he said, resonates as appear for investment in the agriculture sector.
UNDP Resident Coordinator Rodriques reechoed that there is tremendous potential in Liberia for agricultural productivities.
An elated Rodriques said that he is clearly convinced that there is a lot going on in the agriculture sector already as evidenced by the massive display at the NAF—adding that only some extra efforts of commitment and support from the government and partners are needed to ensure farmers to produce on a larger scale.
“There is a lot going on here and my mind is thinking how we can work with the government to give better support to those producers and farmers so that they can take their businesses to a larger scale.”
Mr. Rodriques noted, “This particular farm proves that Liberia is making progress gradually. And it is for the government, development partners like us and private sector actors to work together and find a way for this to be done on a large scale.”
This, he added, will not only enable Liberia to feed herself, but feed the rest of West Africa, the continent, itself, and beyond.
However, low cost and locally fabricated machines as well as locally made feed for the fishes were also showcased during the tour. The local machines fabricated by Liberian artisans have the capacities to reduce labor that farmers endure daily by hundredth fold.
Dr. Akintayo told his guests that the success with the project is a sign of better things to come. “We are grateful for your visit but there is a need for more of this to be done across Liberia if we are to succeed in making Liberia a vibrant agricultural hub.”
The project also has environmental or climate change perspective. “The fact that it is concentrated in the lowlands, no forest has to be clear and no burning of farms that would emit more greenhouse gases into the air,” the AfricaRice boss noted.
He added, “It also means the habitats of wildlife and even the wildlife themselves are saved from destruction and predation as Liberians will focus more on fish as their source of proteins.”