Farmers Celebrate First Harvest of Improved Rice Variety Under the EU-funded DeSIRA Integrated Rice-Fish Farming System Project

Members of the Gborfellah Farmers Association in Margibi County harvesting hybrid rice from the integrated rice-fish farm. Photo Credit: George A. Harris

GBORFELLEH, Margibi County – Even though many of Liberia’s population are involved in farming, agriculture productivity remains low. As a result, the country imports major commodities in order to feed its growing population. For instance, rice, the country’s staple food, is imported too. On average, the country imports 300,000 metric tons of rice annually, costing an estimated US$ 200 million.  

Nonetheless, the EU-funded DeSIRA Integrated Rice-Fish Farming System (IRFFS) project, is helping rice farmers increase their production and their income. This is done through the introduction of an integrated rice-fish farming system. 

The IRFFS project aims to improve food and nutrition security by transforming low-yielding, climate-risky traditional rice-fish production systems into more climate-resilient, high-yielding, resource-use-efficient systems in Liberia. 

The three years (2020-2023) project is implemented by AfricRice,  WorldFish in collaborating with the Ministry of Agriculture (MoA), Central Agricultural Research Institute (CARI), and the National Fisheries and Aquaculture Authority (NaFAA).  

And the integrated rice-fish farming system is practiced in the project’s five implementing counties, Gbarpolu, Grand Gedeh, Maryland, Margibi, and River Gee Counties.

Farmers practicing this farming system grow rice and fish together in ponds. The integrated rice-fish farming system efficiently utilizes the land, and it is a low-risk technology. Also, it saves farmers’ time and increases their income. 

In Margibi County, the IRFFS project’s innovative intervention is already yielding results. The Gborfelleh Farmers Association (GFA), a group comprising 18 farmers, has celebrated their first harvest of the Nerica-L19 rice variety. 

On Tuesday, October 26, 2021, the group harvested 0.25 acres of the improved rice variety. The group celebrated the harvest on their farm in Gborfelleh, Margibi County. The celebration was graced by friends and officials of AfricaRice.  

Liberian rice farmers face many challenges that have kept their production low over the years. Causes of low production in the rice sector have been linked to the lack of basic farm inputs, a weak extension delivery system, and the lack of incentives to encourage production beyond the subsistence level. 

Agriculture is the primary source of income for approximately 80 percent of Liberia’s population, according to the Liberia Institute of Statistics and Geo-Information Services (LIGIS).

Partial view of integrated rice-fish ponds at the GFA’s farm in Gborfelleh Margibi County (Photo Credit: George A. Harris)

But through the IRFFS project, the Gborfelleh Farmers Association, and other farmers have received improved tilapia fingerlings and the Nerica-L19 rice seeds as part of efforts to encourage them to produce beyond subsistence level.

The improved rice variety has a three-month growing period, plus the prospect of increased yields from 2tons/hectares to about 4-5/hectares in the lowlands. Also, the Nile-tilapia matures within 5month and can grow up to 60cm. The improved tilapia, when matured, weighs 5kg on average.

The Lead-farmer of the group, Augustine Moore considered the integrated rice-fish farming system a new beginning for his team. 

“We were into shifting cultivation, and we harvested just once in the year. But with this improved variety taking only three months to mature, we can harvest rice more than three times a year. If you look at it, the addition of [aquaculture] to rice farming is the way to go for us because we will get money by farming all two.

“This is what that I called, ‘taking farmers out of poverty.’ We don’t have to move from one plot to another anymore. I really don’t see that happening because we now have [multiple] sources of income. We have the rice, the fish and also the vegetable. When we are talking about sustainable farming practices for farmers, this is it,” said Moore.  

Also, AfricaRice Country Representative in Liberia, Dr. Inoussa Akintayo praised the group for the progress, but with a caveat, noting that the onus is upon them to ensure that this new model of farming is sustained.

“This method of farming has a lot of potentials not to only improve productivity but to improve your lives. The burden is on you to make Liberia food secured, and you can make this happen through the knowledge you have received along with the resources that are available to you,” he said.  

Responding to Dr. Akintayo, Moore said that his team has begun the discussion about the possible up-scaling of the integrated rice-fish farming system. 

“We are going to act on this technology without any hesitation because it shows that farmers can have two income sources from just a plot,” said Moore.

Additional to the integrated rice-fish farming system introduced, farmers also grow short maturing vegetables under the IRFFS project. The inclusion of vegetable production is another income-generating activity for the farmers, according to Dr. Akintayo. 

“Inclusion of the production of vegetables is to generate income for farmers while they wait on the rice and fish to mature,” said Dr. Akintayo.  

He added that the water from the integrated rice-fish ponds serves as fertilizer for the vegetables.   

“The water from the fish ponds can serve as a fertilizer because the water contains nutrients that are beneficial to the plants. So farmers do not have to worry about money to buy fertilizers,” said Dr. Akintayo  

Also, Moore has expressed his gratitude to the European Union and implementing institutions of the IRFFS project.

Elsewhere, the IRFFS project is gaining momentum among young students. 

Students studying agriculture at the Booker Washington Institute (BWI) in Kakata, Margibi County now benefit from first-hand experience of the integrated rice-fish farming system.  

One student, Hellena Kollie, aspires to become a farmer. She said the project shows that there are many income-generating activities in the agriculture sector. 

“People often tell me to quit studying agriculture after hearing that I am studying agriculture. Their point is that agricultural work is labor-intensive, and it does not really pay in Liberia. But what I am learning here says something different. This program shows that there are many ways to make money in the agriculture sector. Take for example, the integrated rice-fish farming system, through this you make money from the rice, fish, and even the vegetables,” said Hellena.   

Additionally, Hellena and other students have benefited from lectures on the integrated rice-fish farming system and career development from agricultural experts working with AfricaRice under the IRFFS project.  

 The IRFFS project which kicked off on the BWI campus in August at the climax of the 2021/22 academic calendar is expecting its first rice harvest in December and fish harvest in February 2022. It is a result that Dr. Akintayo has lauded. 

“This is very impressive. The progress here is not only welcoming news for the project but the future of the country. With the high unemployment rate among young Liberians, this serves as an alternative livelihood skill for the students. After graduating, these students will already have a livelihood skill,” he said.  

Also, Johnson Smith, an agriculture instructor working with students under the IRFFS project, has lauded the European Union and the efforts of the AfricaRice. Smith said the project is an added advantage for the BWI’s agriculture program.

“This is another added value to our agriculture program, and it will enhance the horizon of our students. When these students have walked through the walls of the Booker Washington Institute, they already have an alternative livelihood skill,” Johnson said. 

Through the IRFFS project, AfricaRice has upgraded the school’s once-fish ponds to integrated rice-fish ponds. Moreover, AfricaRice has supplied the school’s agriculture department with improved rice seeds and fingerlings for the production of the integrated rice-fish farming system.  

The Africa Rice Center (AfricaRice) is a pan-African Center of Excellence for rice research, development, and capacity building. It contributes to reducing poverty, achieving food and nutrition security, and improving the livelihoods of farmers and other rice value-chain actors in Africa by increasing the productivity and profitability of rice-based agri-food systems while ensuring the sustainability of natural resources. 

AfricaRice is one of 15 international agricultural research centers of CGIAR, a global research partnership for a food-secure future. It is also an intergovernmental association of African member countries.