SUAKOKO, Bong County – After a triumphant three-year journey, the DeSIRA Integrated Rice Fish Farming System (IRFFS) project, a groundbreaking agricultural innovation introduced to Liberia in 2020, has reached its conclusion. Farmers who have reaped the benefits of this initiative, along with stakeholders, are now championing its transformation into a national program, recognizing its potential to revolutionize Liberia’s agricultural landscape.
By Gerald C. Koinyeneh – [email protected]
The visionary project, a collaborative endeavor uniting local farmers, agricultural experts, supportive organizations, and government entities, ended last month, leaving behind a legacy of elevated farming practices. Employing cutting-edge precision agriculture techniques, such as cultivating rice alongside fish in the same ponds and incorporating short-term crop varieties, the project propelled farmers’ productivity to unprecedented heights.
At the recent closing ceremony held on Tuesday, August 8, Augustine Moore, a remarkable farmer among the project’s numerous beneficiaries, expressed his gratitude, stating, “This project has been a blessing to us farmers. It has improved our yields and revenue. People are now starting to respect us as farmers.” Moore, who manages a farm in the Gborferhla area, located just a fifteen-minute drive from Kakata, stands as a testament to the project’s success, boasting eight integrated rice-fish ponds and a dedicated equipment warehouse on his property.
Augmented by the efforts of the European Union (EU) and AfricaRice, the IRFFS initiative has triggered transformative change for farmers across Liberia. Augustine Moore appealed to donors and partners to sustain and expand this initiative, emphasizing its potential to catalyze widespread agricultural growth and drive Liberia toward self-sufficiency in the near future.
Throughout the project’s duration, beneficiaries harnessed the power of streamlined resource utilization, optimized crop management, and enhanced overall efficiency. As a result, crop yields witnessed a substantial surge, leading to remarkable economic progress for farmers.
According to Inoussa Akintayo, the AfricaRice Country Manager and lead implementer of the project, the yield of the improved crop variety surged from two tons per hectare to an impressive four to five tons per hectare. Akintayo’s team also introduced the Nile breed of tilapia, a fast-maturing species that reaches up to 60cm in length and an average weight of five kilograms at maturity.
Beyond the cultivation of rice and fish, farmers diversified their produce with the inclusion of vegetables such as cucumbers, lettuce, and eggplants, which boast accelerated growth rates.
The EU, a crucial contributor to Liberia’s developmental endeavors, expressed delight in its meaningful impact. Dr. Geertrui Louwagie, representing the EU office, lauded the project, asserting, “This is one of the best projects we have had, and we are very happy that it is making such an impact in the lives of the people.” While the IRFFS project has reached its conclusion, the EU remains committed to supporting Liberia’s progress through various avenues.
Dr. George Forpoh, Deputy Minister of Agriculture, highlighted the profound positive changes ushered in by the IRFFS pilot project. He emphasized the enhanced financial stability reported by many beneficiaries, as well as the renewed respect and prosperity accorded to the agriculture profession.
“By synergizing rice and fish farming, we have witnessed a surge in agricultural productivity and income diversification for our hardworking farmers,” Dr. Forpoh, who proxied for Agriculture Minister Jeanine Cooper, said.
Forpoh pledged the government’s dedication to widespread adoption of the project’s farming model to promote sustainable development within the agricultural sector.
“I’m glad that we are celebrating the success stories of those who have embraced this approach, the dedicated farmers whose resilience and determination continue to propel Liberia forward,” he said. “These achievements served as a beacon of hope and inspiration, motivating us to further expand and amplify the impact of this transformative initiative.”
Agriculture is a primary source of income for approximately 80 percent of Liberia’s population, according to the Liberia Institute of Statistics and Geo-Information Services (LIGIS), making the sector very important. Despite this, agricultural productivity remains suboptimal, and Liberia continues to import staple foods like rice to feed its growing population.
In the words of Inoussa Akintayo, the IRFFS project sought to rectify this situation. He said, “Rice and fish are a staple diet for Liberians, but despite favorable conditions and huge potentials, the nation continues to depend on importation.” Acknowledging initial skepticism about the project’s unconventional approach, Akintayo highlighted the successful synergy between rice and fish cultivation.
Drawing attention to Liberia’s abundant soil, rivers, and climate, Akintayo emphasized the country’s potential to emerge as an agricultural hub within the Mano River region. He urged the government to invest in its farmers, asserting that self-sufficiency and prosperity lie within reach.
As the IRFFS project concludes, beneficiaries like Augustine Moore yearn for a continued journey. They envision a subsequent phase that builds upon the project’s achievements, igniting a new era of growth within the farming community.
The IRFFS project was a collaborative endeavor undertaken by AfricaRice and WorldFish, in partnership with the Ministry of Agriculture, Central Agricultural Research Institute (CARI), and the National Fisheries and Aquaculture Authority (NaFAA).