Something good and promising happened in Gbarnga last week. Madam Estelle Kuyon Liberty, a Commissioner at the Land Commission who hails from Bong County, harvested some large fish from three of her fishponds.
She is not a professional farmer; rather a money economist trained at her brother Bismarck Kuyon’s alma mater, Iowa State University in the United States. It was Bismarck, a brilliant student, who studied Marine Biology at Iowa State on a scholarship from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) through the Government Farm in Suakoko (now Central Agricultural Research Institute-CARI). Bismark had graduated second of his class from the Booker
Washington Institute in 1958 and entered Cuttington College and Divinity School (now Cuttington University), where he continued in Agriculture. He was to return from Iowa and construct fishponds around the country, beginning in his native Bong County. He served at the Agriculture Ministry for some time, then answered the call of his church, the United Methodist, to become principal of the Gbarnga Methodist Mission. He later entered politics and never returned to fishponds, scientifically know as aquaculture.
Estelle returned from Iowa State and joined the Ministry of Planning and Economic Affairs, where she rose to Assistant Minister and Senior Economist. She later served as Deputy Minister in the Gender, Internal Affairs and Post and Telecommunications Ministries, respectively, then joined the Land Commission as a Commissioner.
It was probably after recalling her late brother’s conversations about fishponds that Estelle later became interested in aquaculture. She constructed several ponds and then founded the Bong County Aquaculture Association (BCAA). Its aim: involving Bong farmers in starting fishponds to improve the people’s protein diet and make money to escape poverty.
This enterprising money economist seems determined to extend aquaculture to other counties. She has already enlisted over 94 active fish farmers, including several women and has involved people in Nimba, Grand Cape Mount and Margibi counties.
Estelle is receiving technical assistance from ADRA, the Adventist Relief Agency. She is now providing CARI with fish fingerlings with which CARI is now doing research to determine whether heterotis, a breed of fish that she brought in from Guinea, can be further developed here. Heterotis is also found in the St. John River, which bridges Bong and Nimba counties and travels on to Grand Bassa.
The ADRA experience is different from regular aquaculture because ADRA has taught farmers to grow not only fish in ponds but also crops, such as vegetables, potato and even rice. Estelle says she is still eating some of the rice she grew in her fish ponds.
Aquaculture seems to be an industry whose time has come in Liberia. Estelle contacted the Swedish NGO, GROW, which promptly sent out an aquaculture expert, Damien Legros. He toured eight counties, conducted a market system assessment in aquaculture and concluded that this sector must strengthen its commercial viability for farmers to benefit in several ways. Though still in its infancy, Mr. Legros said in his report, “aquaculture presents Liberia with favorable conditions for the government and partners to prioritize the sector by giving a boost to mechanized farming.”
Two additional advantages he named are Liberia’s abundant fresh water and its climate, which he described as “perfect” for most cultured species such as tilapia.
Mr. Legros recommended “an implementation and budgeting mainly of the draft aquaculture policy with re-enforcement of the competent authority, the Bureau of National Fisheries.
This is why we say aquaculture has great promise in Liberia. From fish, our farmers could go into shrimp and even lobster production. We are happy for a woman like Estelle Liberty who, with the help of NGOs like ADRA and GROW, is single-handedly driving this infant industry. We urge other entrepreneurs to join her. Remember this: Liberia has over the decades had many, many opportunities that we have thrown away and this is partly why our country is listed among the world’s poorest nations. Let this not happen again with this great opportunity that aquaculture presents.
We encourage Madam Estelle Liberty to redouble her efforts to push aquaculture throughout Liberia. And though yes, we have the National Fisheries Bureau, let the aquaculture industry be private-sector driven and not be handicapped by government bureaucracy.
Estelle, the ball is in your court. Drive it, as you engage your fellow fish farmers around the country and ADRA, GROW, FED/USAID and any other interested group that can help.