Transforming Liberia's Agriculture: EU & Government Applaud Africarice's Successful DeSIRA Project
The DeSIRA Integrated Rice-Fish Farming System (IRFFS) is a European Union funded project, whose goal is to enhance the development of rice and fish value chains for improved food, nutrition, and economic security through targeted research and extension approaches. DeSIRA stands for Development through Research in Agriculture, it is an EU initiative which aims to contribute to climate-relevant, productive and sustainable transformation of agriculture and food systems in low and middle-income countries. A rice-fish system is an integrated rice field or rice field/pond complex, where fish are grown concurrently or alternately with rice. Fish may be deliberately stocked or may enter fields naturally from surrounding waterways when flooding occurs, or a bit of both.
According to the Liberia Institute of Statistics and Geo-Information Services (LIGIS), agriculture is the primary source of income for approximately 80 percent of the population in Liberia. However, Liberian rice farmers face many challenges that kept their production low over the years: the lack of basic farm inputs, a weak extension delivery system, and the lack of incentives to encourage production beyond the subsistence level. In addition, Liberia imports major commodities to feed its growing population. On average, the country imports 300,000 metric tons of rice annually, costing an estimated US$ 200 million.
In this context, AfricaRice and WorldFish implemented a three-year (2020-2023) project in partnership with national institutions which include the National Fisheries and Aquaculture Authority (NaFAA), the Central Agricultural Research Institute (CARI), and the Ministry of Agriculture (MoA) of the Republic of Liberia. Through this project, farmers learned how to grow rice and fish together in ponds contributing to a better utilization of land and increase of their income. The integrated rice-fish farming system has been implemented in five counties: Gbarpolu, Grand Gedeh, Maryland, Margibi, and River Gee; to increase the capacity of research on integrated rice-fish systems in Liberia, the coverage of extension services to integrated rice-fish systems, the income of households and the access and consumption of fish and rice.
Various innovations have been disseminated to the DeSIRA project’s beneficiaries including climate-smart technologies in rice field preparations and pond construction to safe-guide the ponds from erosion through flash floods, improved NERICA L-19 rice variety maturing within 120-130 days growth cycle, rice ratooning technology that enables farmers to harvest twice from the same rice plant and locally fabricated agro-equipment for production and processing of rice and fish.
These innovations resulted in major outputs towards the project’s targets in the counties:
An increase in fish and rice production - with less than 1 ton of locally produced fish and rice in 2020 to 35 tons of fish and 167 tons of rice produced in IRFFS in 2023.
A high impact on households especially women and youth - with no women and youth adopted the IRFFS in 2020 to 103 women head of households and 178 youth adopted this system in 2023.
In addition, various training workshops (AfricaRice-WorldFish ToT Workshop on Quality Fish Seeds and Foodfish Production in Rice Fields; Agroequipment Fabrication Training Workshop; etc.) have been conducted for staff of the DeSIRA project’s partners, students, and farmers to enhance their capacities to maximize the benefits of the integrated rice-fish farming system.
The project's partners were full of praise for the successful implementation of this project, which will have a significant impact on improving the livelihoods of farmers in Liberia and will play a major role in transforming the country's agricultural systems. For Augustine Moore, lead farmer of one of the project's beneficiary groups: ‘‘integrated rice-fish farming is the way to go because it highly contributes to increased income for farmers. This is what I call taking farmers out of poverty. We have the rice, the fish and the vegetables. When we are talking about sustainable farming practices for farmers, this is it.”
Representatives of the Liberian government and DeSIRA project partners visited the Central Agricultural Research Institute (CARI) to witness the project's achievements firsthand and they all return with positive feedback and appreciation for the great results achieved.