By William Q. Harmon
SUAKOKO, BONG COUNTY—The DeSIRA Integrated Rice Fish Farming System (IRFFS), an innovative new farming method introduced in the country three years ago, has ended after three years of its implementation. Beneficiaries of the initiative and other stakeholders see the initiative as a game changer for Liberia’s agriculture if adapted as a national program.
The visionary initiative, which commenced in 2020, was a collaborative effort between local farmers, agricultural experts, and supportive organizations and the government.
The project, which came to a close last month, successfully harnessed cutting-edge practices to transform conventional farming methods. Its precision agriculture techniques of growing rice along with fish in the same ponds, as well as short term varieties elevated farmers’ productivity at an unprecedented level.
“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,” the most outstanding farmer out of the hundreds of beneficiaries, Augustine Moore, said at the event that marked the official closing of the project on Tuesday, August 8.
Moore, who spoke on behalf of beneficiaries, said the farm is situated in the Gborferhla area, a fifteen-minute drive from Kakata.
The 54-year-old farmer’s project is a destination of marvel for passers-by. Moore boasts eight integrated rice-fish ponds on his farm. It is an achievement only he has made under the IRFFS project. He has constructed a warehouse to host equipment for his farm.
“EU and AfricaRice are changing the lives of farmers across this country through this new farming method. We want to appeal to the donor and other partners to see the need to continue this initiative and have it extended to all parts of the country,” he said. “The government needs to see the need to convince its partners to put money into this project. It will help farmers grow and will make Liberia’s food sufficient in the next few years if it continues.”
Under the project, beneficiaries were able to optimize resource usage, streamline crop management, and enhance overall efficiency. As a result, crop yields significantly increased, leading to a noteworthy economic uplift for farmers.
The yield of the improved variety is also higher, up from two tons per hectare to about four-five tons per hectare, AfricaRice Country Manager, Inoussa Akintayo disclosed. Akintayo’s organization was the lead implementer of the project. He served as its coordinator. They also use the Nile breed of tilapia, which matures in five months and can grow up to 60cm. The tilapia weighs five kilograms on average when mature.
In addition to rice and fish, farmers also grow vegetables such as cucumbers, lettuce, and eggplants that mature faster.
The EU expressed excitement that it was contributing to Liberia’s development in such a meaningful way.
“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,” Dr. Geertrui Louwagie, who represented the EU office, said.
Louwagie noted that though the project has ended, the EU will continue to help Liberia in many other ways. The IRFFS was the EU’s way of helping address the challenges faced by Liberian farmers in terms of crop yield, families’ nutrition, revenue generation, and the integration of advanced techniques and technologies.
The IRFFS pilot project marked a turning point for countless farming families, as many beneficiaries reported increased financial stability, and re-established agriculture as a prosperous and respected profession. Beneficiaries were then equipped with practical skills and knowledge to adapt to the evolving agricultural landscape, while receiving comprehensive guidance on implementing sustainable practices, optimizing resource allocation, and reducing environmental impact.
“By synergizing rice and fish farming, we have witnessed a surge in agricultural productivity and income diversification for our hardworking farmers,” Deputy Minister of Agriculture, Dr. George Forpoh, who proxied for Minister Jeanine Cooper, said.
“Not only have yields increased, but we have also witnessed enhanced nutrition and improved access to protein-rich diets for our communities.
Forpoh then pledged the government commitment to promote the integration of the project farming model across the country to drive sustainable development in 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).
Even though much of the country’s population is involved in farming, agricultural productivity remains low as the country imports almost everything including its staple food rice to feed its growing population.
“This is what the project was meant to change,” Akintayo said. “Rice and fish are a staple diet for Liberians, but despite favorable conditions and huge potentials, the nation continues to depend on importation.”
“IRFFS was conceive to solve problem. Though some considered us as dreamers at the time because they did not believe that rice and fish could grow together, but here we are,” Akintayo told guests at the closing ceremony.
Akintayo noted that Liberia has the potential to become an agriculture hub in the Mano River region, citing the country’s soil, rivers, and the climate, which he argued gave Liberia a competitive advantage.
“This country does not have to import anything; the government just needs to invest in its farmers and we all will see the dividends,” Akintayo said.
Meanwhile, beneficiaries, like Moore, are left yearning for more. They believe that project has ignited a spark within the farming community, and the next phase would be of a greater help.
The IRFFS project was implemented by AfricaRice and WorldFish, in collaboration with the Ministry of Agriculture, Central Agricultural Research Institute and the National Fisheries and Aquaculture Authority.