Dr. Inoussa Akintayo, Africa Rice Country Director/Desira Project Coordinator, says though the COVID-19 pandemic has delayed the full implementation of the 3.5 million Euros integrated rice and fish project, plans are underway to commence the project in the beneficiary counties soon.
He said his institution is in the process to begin the baseline assessment identification of beneficiaries before starting the project in the targeted counties which include Grand Gedeh, Maryland, Gbarpolu, Margibi, and River Gee counties.
Dr. Akintayo made the disclosure to the Daily Observer over the weekend in Monrovia in an exclusive interview.
The integrated rice fish project is sponsored by the European Union and implemented by Africa Rice and World Fish, in collaboration with the Government of Liberia through the National Fisheries and Aquaculture Authorities (NaFAA) and the Ministry of Agriculture (MOA).
It’s expected to benefit 365 rural smallholder farmers in the beneficiary counties through access to research, innovations and technologies that will improve the sustainability and productivity of their rice and fish products.
Akintayo said that his institution will make sure that the right farmers are recruited for the project to ensure sustainability.
According to him, one of the reasons why agriculture projects failed in Liberia is that those selected as beneficiaries are not really farmers but people who seek for opportunity that they cannot commit themselves to.
“The beneficiaries will be selected accordingly because the sustainability of any project depends mainly on those who are involved. We shall not recruit people who are opportunists and don’t have a real interest in the project. This is because when the project phases out, they go. That’s why we are going to identify those who can really make the project sustainable, he said.
According to him, the project will organize farmers into cooperatives in the various targeted counties, providing them with the improved technologies, lay out their farms and give them seeds and fingerlings to improve production,
He explained that the project is currently being experimented at the Central Agriculture Research Institution (CARI) in Suakoko, Bong County.
According to him, for the past months, they have established a business development continuation program and ensure research work for smallholder farmers interested in learning the new technologies to grow rice and fish together.
He said that the demonstration site in CARI was once visited by government officials who expressed impression about the project.
“The first harvest of rice from the field has started and farmers have the opportunity to learn some innovations that they can replicate. Government officials a few weeks ago came to visit the project and were very impressed upon seeing the rice and fish growing together.
We tell farmers that the kind of integration can reduce labor and enhance better growth. The fish are contributing to the weeding and providing the needed fertilizer to enable the rice to grow well.
According to him the first harvest of the experimental plot indicated that a yield of 5 metric tons per hectares, adding that if one compared that with a plot where fish are not grown, you can have a minimum of 3 metric tons.
He said they have introduced a technology called the floating cage that produces in each cage up to 10,000 fish.
“The water used at CARI for the technology is a dam that can hold up to 300 cages. This is a gold mine that we are trying to unlock agriculture potential in this country,” he said.
According to Akintayo, Liberia is not supposed to be an importer of rice and fish because it has the fertile soil, enough rainfall.
“What I have seen, if we are importing, then it means that we are lazy. This is unacceptable. When I traveled to Ethiopia 2 years ago, I presented the case of Liberia, and somebody who listened to me said that we are ungrateful and not serious. The person said our country is endowed with a natural environment that should make self-reliant in food.
The Africa Rice Country Director said there is a need for policymakers to make good decisions to make agriculture a priority and move the economy forward.
“The government should see reason to organize the farmers. Just to make mention of the lake that we have at CARI, which has existed for more than 50 years, can be used to feed Liberia.
He said that if the capacity of CARI, as a research institution, is built by the government, it would be able to produce food for the country and sustain itself without depending on the government to pay its workers.
Meanwhile, Agriculture Minister Jeanine M. Cooper has praised the leadership role that Dr. Akintayo has played during the COVID pandemic to get the project implementation going.
She said that for agriculture to move forward in Liberia it depends hugely on the work of partners.