Liberia’s quest to become a food-secure nation is gradually gaining momentum with the introduction of technologies and other innovative means that will help enhance productivity, especially in the area of the country’s staple food, rice.
With the help of partners such as AfricaRice, African Development Bank (AfDB) and others, Liberia has in recent years made steady progress in the sector, especially in the areas of production, value addition, empowerment of farmers and marketing. The introduction of new technologies have, in fact, been the crux of these partners’ efforts in the country.
The latest of these is the fabrication of rice mills, which is currently on-going in Gbarnga, Bong County. Artisans have been drawn from across the country and are being trained in rice mill fabrication. The training is an AfricaRice initiative in collaboration with the Smallholder Agricultural Productivity Enhancement and Commercialization (SAPEC) project, conducted at the Moon Light Workshop in Gbarnga. The workshop is not just one of the well equipped but most outstanding workshops in the country.
This development comes at a time when many of the advanced rice mills imported in the country by the Ministry of Agriculture and partners have been out of order, either because parts for these rice mills are either hard to find or there are no technicians available to provide maintenance.
Explaining the significance of the Rice Mill Fabrication program, AfricaRice Chief of Party (COP), Dr. Innousa Akintayo said last week: “Our baseline study revealed that our mothers and sisters continue to use mortar to process rice. This is not acceptable in the 21st century.
“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,” Dr. Akintayo said.
When asked about the reasons for abandonment, Dr. Akintayo noted that the responses across the country are the same. “No spare parts, we cannot afford importing spare parts,” he disclosed, adding that the findings of the survey is true for the majority of imported agriculture equipment over decades.
The solution for this, AfricaRice boss said, is to build local capacity, to address the situation and make it sustainable. “This is the objective of our workshop. This is why we are here today and for the next two weeks.
“If our artisans are able to build a thresher, a planter or a rice mill, they will be able to repair them when there is a problem,” he said.
Agriculture remains a major source of income not only in Liberia but the entire Africa. But untapped potential has resulted in persistent poverty, unemployment and deteriorating food security.
As a result, agriculture equipment building is among the key potential areas that need to be unlocked. Dr. Akintayo said, “The training we are offering is a good opportunity for all artisans present here or those who are ready to invest in agribusiness. It is also a good job opportunity for the youths.”
One advantage of the new rice mills that are being fabricated is that they can be moved easily from place to place.
“It can be used to provide service in remote localities as this is the case in Senegal and Mali.
“My dream is to see this happen in Maryland, in Grand Gedeh, in Grand Kru, in Bong—for short, in all counties. We have started distributing some of the mills across the country. At least 6 counties are already served. More counties will be served very shortly,” Dr. Akintayo said.
The AfricaRice executive hoped the participants, upon the completion of the training, will contribute to the realization and sustainability of the “dream of mine.”
“This will be possible by using acquired knowledge during this training for maintenance of the mills in your respective counties and building more mills,” Dr. Akintayo said.
“SAPEC will do everything possible to facilitate and monitor your contribution,” he added.
The workshop is being facilitated by a post-harvest and processing expert from Benin, Dr. Roger Ahounsou, and mechanization expert, Dr. Jean Moreira. Parts for the mills are locally collected.
“We don’t have to go anywhere to get the parts to make these mills. They are here with us in Liberia,” Dr. Akintayo noted.
Liberia in 2015 received a grant of US$46.5 million from the Global Agriculture and Food Security Program (GAFSP), as well as a loan of US$4 million from the African Development Fund (ADF), to finance the SAPEC project and reduce rural poverty and household food insecurity. Its objective is to increase, on a sustainable basis, the income of smallholder farmers and rural entrepreneurs, particularly women, youth and the physically-challenged.
The project covers 12 of the 15 counties; however there are some activities of the project that cover the entire country. The project has four components: Sustainable Crop Production Intensification; Value Addition and Marketing; Capacity Building and Institutional Strengthening; and Project Management.
However, AfricaRice had a week earlier concluded a training program on integrated rice management in which forty participants from all counties participated.
“We are now launching this program which will go a long way in our quest to see a more sustainable and vibrant sector,” Dr. Akintayo said.
Two training programs in less than a month on the same crop (Rice), Dr. Akintayo said, is a sign of importance of rice in Liberia. “it is a sign that we are ready to be in the front line of the Government’s struggle for food sovereignty in Liberia.” AfricaRice has already trained numerous Liberian artisans in the building of rice threshers.
“This is the way China, India, Vietnam and many other Asian countries built their agriculture sector. Let us follow their example,” he urged.
It is obvious that Liberia cannot do all at once, but it is time to start from somewhere, he noted.
“Last year, in this workshop (Moon Light), we trained artisans to build rice threshers, today, we are tackling rice mill building,” he said.
Dr. Akintayo disclosed that more training programs are planned to deal with other equipment.
Though there are no females among the participants, which he said is as a result of the difficulties faced in recruiting women in these areas, they (women) are however the first beneficiaries.
“Having rice mills in villages will without any doubt alleviate the drudgery resulting from manual rice milling. Women are not part of this program today but their role in agriculture is well recognized. In fact, they are the main actors along the rice value chain,”
“Remember, the future millionaires in Liberia will come from the agriculture sector. You may be one of them,” he told the participants.
In keeping with its promise to SAPEC to meaningfully contribute to the improvement of agriculture and agribusiness sectors in Liberia, AficaRice, Dr. Akintayo noted, will work shoulder to shoulder with the government, development partners, and all actors along the rice value chain including the artisans, to make Liberian agriculture a prosperous one and the dream of President George Weah a reality.
In a brief statement the Superintendent for Bong County, Esther Walker, said “these are the kinds of initiatives that our country needs. I’m so impressed to be here this morning. This tells us that we are moving forward as a country”.
She lauded AfricaRice and partners for the initiative and admonished the participants to see the training as an opportunity to contribute their quotas to nation building.