The Smart Valley Rice Project (SVP) under AfricaRice with funding from the Japanese Government on Thursday, September 12, 2019 concluded a daylong rice innovation forum on improved lowland rice production for farmers, agriculture extension workers from the Ministry of Agriculture (MoA), and researchers from the Central Agriculture Research Institute (CARI).
The training, which brought together 50 participants in all, was held at CARI in Suakoko District, Bong County.
AfricaRice Representative to Liberia, Dr. Inoussa Akintayo, told the trainees that many still wonder why Liberia is yet to feed itself as the country continues to import US$200 million worth of rice annually, though it has 4.6 million hectares of arable land that covers over 40 percent of the rain forest in the Sub-region.
"We have all the requirements to grow enough rice, including good climatic conditions. If only we can top up on those potentials, then we can feed ourselves and the neighboring countries," Dr. Akintayo said.
Akintayo said it is now time that the Liberian government prioritizes lowland rice cultivation, which has the potential to produce more yield to at least feed some of the population.
"Lowland rice production entails big investment and, as such, the government alone cannot do all. AfricaRice has introduced the "SAWAH" approach, which is the low cost lowland development where the farmers used local materials to develop the land. SAWAH is also a man-made, improved rice-growing environment with demarcated, bunded, leveled, and puddled fields for water control," he said.
Dr. Akintayo informed the participants that the project would have phased out by the end of September 2019, but because of the success stories of lowland rice productions by the farming groups in the selected communities, AfricaRice through the Japanese Government decided to extend the project by an additional three months.
"We have tried this "SAWAH" method in many countries in the sub-region, and it worked well. This same technique is working well with the farming groups that we are working with in the country," Dr. Akintayo said.
Africa Rice Center (AfricaRice), is a leading pan-African research organization with a mission to contribute to poverty alleviation and food security in Africa through research, development and partnership activities.
"In the Southeast, the government has developed hundreds of hectares of lowland with donors' support, but unfortunately, those lands have not been used. Interestingly, in other parts of the country, farmers are yearning for such environments to cultivate," Dr. Akintayo said.
He added, "If a household can apply the "SAWAH" approach by using the local materials to cultivate the lowland or swamp, it breaks the chains of poverty by generating capacity for local production, processing and marketing of rice and rapidly decreasing dependence on world markets."
The AfricaRice training, which brought together 50 participants in all, was held at CARI in Suakoko District, Bong County.
An official from MoA said that the government is committed to increasing rice production, "and this forum will provide more information regarding the process to production of the rice."
He encouraged farmers to take the SMART VALLEY Project training "very serious" so as to go in their various communities and train other farmers.
Smart Valley Project Coordinator, Dr. Roland Nuhu Issaka, said the project has established 20 farming groups in Bong, three in Nimba County and one in Margibi County.
Dr. Issaka said the projects are to improve inland valley rice production of smallholder farmers through area expansion and increased productivity in the targeted counties to achieve augmented, and stable yields through improved site-specific agronomic practices, and to build the capacities of farmers about lowland farming, especially on rice productions and soil management.
He named lack of interest (not interested in group ownership), infiltration by individuals with ulterior motives and physical and land tenure as some challenges in the production of lowland rice.
He said over the months his institution has provided to the farmers wellington boots, shovels, hoes, cutlasses, seed rice, sand bags, twine, the periodic supply of rice fertilizer and pesticides, as well as on the job training of water management, agronomy and pest management.
Earlier, Bong County Superintendent Esther Y. Walker urged SVRIF to focus on options that would intensify the project by enhancing production in rice-based systems in a sustainable manner.
She said that it is time for Liberians to engage in "serious" agriculture activities.