By Simeon S. Wiakanty
Thousands of local farmers are said to be benefiting from the Japanese Rice Grant project in five Ebola affected counties in Liberia, namely, Bomi, Lofa, Cape Mount, Grand Bassa and Montserrado. The rice project is being sponsored by the Japanese Government through the International Fund for Agriculture Development (IFAD), in collaboration with the Ministry of Agriculture, with Community of Hope Agriculture Project (CHAP) as one of the main implementing partners. The project is aimed at building the capacity of local farmers in the System of Rice Intensification (SRI) agriculture practice. SRI is an improved farming methodology for increasing the productivity of rice by changing the management practices of the seedlings (plant), water, soil and nutrients to get better yields. This improved technology to grow rice is being practiced by many West African countries and was launched in Liberia in 2013 with the goal of increasing rice production.
The Japanese rice project also seeks to link farmers to markets through aggregators and to make available seed rice, fertilizers, pesticides, rotary tiller machines, garden weasels and shovels among others, and labor saving devices to farmers. The Japanese Rice Grant project has donated 360 tons of fertilizer and agro-chemicals to local farmers across the project affected counties.
The executive director of CHAP, Rev. Robert Bimba, who spoke to journalists during a recent tour at some of the project sites in Lofa County said the Japanese rice project will increase the production of rice in the targeted county by training 1,800 smallholder farmers in the SRI practice. He stressed the need for local farmers to grow what they eat, adding that despite the support from partners to the agriculture sector, “it is important to produce our local rice. Let us stop making farmers outside the country rich while we are getting poorer.” He further encouraged local farmers to take advantage of the Japanese Rice Grant project, which intends to strengthen local farmers in rice production.
“One of the project sites in Lofa County is expected to be harvested at the end of this month, thus giving a major boost to farmers in that county,” he said. He disclosed that two of the project beneficiaries in Lofa County, Teddy Taylor and Makarvee Kanneh, are expected to shortly travel to Mali for an intensive rice production training sponsored by the Japanese Government. “Over the years, our institution has been providing support to local farmers through capacity building in the agriculture sector,” he added.
Meanwhile, farmers in Lofa County thanked the Japanese Government for helping them recover from the deadly effect of the Ebola epidemic which greatly affected their productivity. They told this newspaper that over the years they have been finding it very difficult to produce rice due to the lack of farming materials, but that the presence of the Japanese Rice Grant project has brought hope to them. The farmers added that with the level of support from partners the county will regain its status as the breadbasket of Liberia. They appealed for the extension of the project to at least three years in order to achieve the desired change within the rice sector of Liberia.
Francis Konneh, the chairman of a local farming group in Lofa County, said “we expressed gratitude to the Japanese Rice Grant project, MOA, IFAD and CHAP for educating us in modern rice planting methodology. SRI is one of the best ways for farmers to produce more rice,” and added the slogan, “Plant Less, Grow More.”