Suakoko, Bong County – Stakeholders at the just-ended National Agriculture Fair (NAF) held at the Central Agricultural Research Institute (CARI) in Suakoko, Bong County, have lavished praises on AfricaRice, an agricultural research center, for its high level of innovation.
Farmers from across the country last week converged at the (NAF) CARI where they showcased their produce. Also on display were products with exquisite values addition brought at the fair by farmers and other entrepreneurs.
But among all of these, AfricaRice’s Integrated Rice-Fish Farming System (IRFFS) project situated in Suakoko stood tall among the rest and attracted praises from stakeholders and partners who graced the event.
The IRFFS project, also known as the DeSIRA project, seeks to develop integrated, climate-smart rice-fish production systems sustainably and development of successful extension service delivery systems. The initiative is funded by European Union (EU).
DeSIRA geared towards improving food security, nutrition and wealth creation, especially for rural farmers. The Ministry of Agriculture (MOA), the National Fisheries and Aquaculture Authority (NaFAA) and CARI are collaborating with the implementers on the project.
With the needed support and investment, this farming method and its accompanying innovations, according to experts, can solve Liberia’s food insecurity and nutritional problems in a few years.
The project, during the NAF, attracted scores of other high profile dignitaries who lauded the implementers after being amazed by what they saw.
Some of these include United Nations Resident Coordinator, Neils Scott, EU Ambassador, Laurent Delahousse; UNDP Resident Coordinator, Stephen Rodriques; French Ambassador, Michael Roux and the team leader at GROW-Liberia, Umar Mohammed among others.
The visiting delegates were taken on a guided tour of the project when they were given an understanding of the initiative and how it would impact the agric sector.
They were ferried to an innovative technological fishpond, known as the Floating Cage, with capacities to host 40,000 fish, each, in a safe, secure and eco-friendly environment on a man-made lake at CARI. They also visited fields were rice and fish are being grown side by side.
An impressed Agriculture Minister Cooper lauded AfricaRice for the innovations put into the project. She noted, “This is what we want to see in the sector. And I strongly believe this is setting the stage for better things to come.”
She expressed excitement that everything in the project, (the cages, fish feeds, machines and others), is locally made. She paid tribute to Dr. Akintayo for his insightful innovations. “This project is an innovation of Dr. Akintayo.”
Having the rice and fish together is the most interesting part to the minister, who noted, “The two are rolled out together. So you have your rice and fish side by side.”
Minister Cooper was even more fascinated about the floating cage. “Fishes are growing in cages, depicting that Liberia’s potential for aquaculture is enormous,” she said.
Each of the floating cages contains over ten thousand fish—at times growing to one and a half or two pounds in just six months. “This is a huge business opportunity. We have eleven large rivers across the country where this can be replicated and it will bring us huge dividends,” the minister, who has since described the project as her favorite, said.
“This will improve income and create a sustainable nutrition value for most Liberian households and it would do far better if we invest more,” she said.
UN Resident Coordinator Scott said the DeSIRA project provides a clear understanding as to where agriculture is and should be heading in Liberia—innovation.
“So what we see here is an excellent example of how you can change the dynamics of agriculture with not so huge an investment, but by using innovations, and enterprising approach, and by making sure the profile of the sector changes,” Coordinator Scott said.
With the level of innovations AfricaRice has put in the project, he believes the agriculture sector would change rapidly. “And this is on the basis of what we are seeing here today. We, fully support the government on this. And we really look forward to results with gratitude to people who are behind these exquisite innovations.”
Scott hopes the project is taken to other parts of the country. “This is not only by using innovative means and having regard for production, but post harvest and value addition.
The UN head termed the display at the site as a fundamental message to President George Weah that the sector has a direction that he and his government need to look at critically.
“We at the UN fully support this. We will be supporting reasonable investments at every stage in the sector as we have been doing,” he said.
EU Ambassador Delahousse noted that considering the Liberia’s vast agric potentials, the country stands a great chance of becoming a vibrant agriculture and economic hub like it was in the 1970s.
He noted at the opening of the NAF that with implementing partners, the EU has and continues to be active in the value chain of both staple and cash crops. “We also fund activities that are innovative for Liberians such as the DeSIRA project that is piloted here at CARI.
He lauded the initiators of the NAF, which he said, resonates as appear for investment in the agriculture sector.
Team Europe Initiative
The EU Ambassador noted that the union entered bilateral relations since the 1070s at a time when the country was on a journey of prosperity and development while also exporting agricultural produce to other parts of the world.
He disclosed that there would be a slight difference in the EU support to Liberia going forward. In our programming of European support to Liberia for the period 2021-2027 plan, we are ready to continue our support to the government. We have agreed on a framework to bring our resources together under what we called Team Europe Initiative.
He noted that this is aim at capitalizing on Liberia’s strengths and were it got more potentials: save and sustainable food system and sustainable forest trees and biodiversity conservation.
“We put the value chain approach at the center of the sustainable food system.”
With this, the EU says it will give recognitions to the importance of every single component: production, transportation, processing, marketing, distribution and consumption. “We will also prioritize every single actor along the value chain,” he said.
The Team Leader of GROW-Liberia, Umar Mohammed, termed the DeSIRA initiative as a laudable one. He stated that the project has a huge potential and could go a long way in ensuring food security and sufficiency though his organization is currently focus on only two of the sub-sectors under the broad agriculture sector, vegetable and cocoa productions, and may not be able to invest in rice and fish farming soon.
“We are hoping that the relevant partners will work with the Agriculture Ministry to scale up this project. It has a lot to do for this country. This is a very laudable project from all perspectives,” the GROW-Liberia boss said.
He called on the government to take the initiative very seriously by ensuring that huge investments are made to scale up the project across the country.
“The Minister said that there are eleven rivers in which these floating cages can be replicated. So imagine replicating this across the country and having different people to invest and participate in this initiative—Liberia will definitely become food sufficient and even of food to other countries,” he said, adding, “We want to suggest that the government takes the initiative seriously.”
Meanwhile, however, low cost and locally fabricated machines as well as locally made feed for the fishes were also showcased during the tour. The local machines fabricated by Liberian artisans have the capacities to reduce labor that farmers endure daily by hundredth fold.