The United Nations agriculture agency and the European Community are supporting Liberia in rehabilitating its fertile lowlands, which cover one fifth of the West African country, to cut the nation's dependence on rice imports and improve the livelihood of vulnerable farming families.
Considering that lowland farms have the potential to yield up to 80 to 90 per cent more rice than upland ones, the Liberian Government has prioritized the rehabilitation of swamps, especially those with damaged or abandoned rice fields.
"In the swamps, you can grow two, three crops of rice per year, compared to just one per year on upland slopes," said Sheku Kamara, an agricultural engineer with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).
By contrast, "with upland rice you have to move to another area after each harvest, then you slash and burn to clear brush and trees, then you move to another area and you repeat that."
Mr. Kamara has provided technical support for a 2,000-hectare swamp and irrigation rehabilitation project funded by the European Union.
FAO has distributed rice seeds, fertilizers and pest management supplies to 10,000 vulnerable rural households under the initiative. It is also supporting school garden projects and vegetable growers with materials, training and technical assistance.
The agency's technical support to the Government includes training to improve the quality of extension services, strengthen the capacity of employees to conduct crop surveys, and revive the national system for producing, testing and storing seeds.
While rice production in Liberia has increased significantly since the end of its 14-year civil war in 2003, the percentage of rice that is imported remains high. According to Government figures, Liberia continues to imports 60 per cent of the rice it consumes.
Up to 5,000 men and women in Bong, Nimba and Lofa counties, many of whom fled rural farms during the civil war, are participating in the new initiative. They are reviving defunct lowland farms, repairing irrigation systems, and receiving training in sustainable farming techniques.
"During the war, we went away," said Bendu Bendeh, a resident of Samay in Bong County. "After that, we had no money, no way to work."
Today, Ms. Bendeh stands on swampland that she and her neighbours have rehabilitated.
"Now we know how to set up the bunds," she said, referring to the dirt embankments that criss-cross the fields and serve as a form of irrigation control, work platforms and footpaths. Ms. Bendeh also received seeds, tools, fertilizer and pest management supplies.
"We were taught how to take rice from a nursery and transplant the seedlings for a better crop," she added.