26 August 2010, Monrovia/Rome - The fertile lowlands that cover one-fifth of Liberia are part of a European Union and FAO-supported plan to cut the nation's dependence on rice imports and improve the livelihood of vulnerable farmer families.
The Liberian government has prioritized the rehabilitation of swamps, especially those with damaged or abandoned rice fields, noting that lowland farms have the potential to yield up to 80-90 percent more rice than upland ones.
"In using more of our lowlands, not only will we get higher yields, we will also minimize deforestation and soil erosion," said J. Qwelibo Subah, Director-General of Liberia's Central Agricultural Research Institute, underlining the environmental benefit of his government's plan.
"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, FAO Agricultural Engineer. "With upland rice, instead, 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," Kamara explained.
Kamara has provided technical support for a 2 000-hectare swamp and irrigation rehabilitation project funded by the European Union Food Facility (EUFF), the EU's massive response to high food prices in developing countries.
Set up the bunds
Liberian rice production has increased significantly since the end of a 14-year civil war in 2003. It jumped from from 85 000 metric tonnes (mt) in 2005 to 144 000 mt in 2007, for example. Still, Liberia imports 60 percent of the rice consumed in the country, according to government figures.
In Bong, Nimba and Lofa counties, up to 5 000 men and women, many of whom fled rural farms during the conflict, are reviving defunct lowland farms, repairing irrigation systems, and receiving training in sustainable farming techniques.
"During the war, we went away. After that, we had no money, no way to work," said Bendu Bendeh, of Samay, in Bong County, as she stood on swampland that she and her neighbors had rehabilitated.
"Now we know how to set up the bunds," Bendeh said, referring to the dirt embankments that crisscross the fields and serve as irrigation control, work platforms and footpaths. "We were taught how to take rice from a nursery and transplant the seedlings for a better crop."
Bendeh and other villagers also received seeds, tools, fertilizer and other pest management supplies.
EU Food Facility
The EUFF is channeling €4.5 million through FAO to Liberia as part of its two-year, €1 billion effort to help developing countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America move towards long-term food security.
In Liberia, the EUFF is part of a multi-faceted initiative by the government and the UN Joint Programme for Food Security and Nutrition which aims to provide emergency assistance to food-insecure households while also building the capacity of Liberians to improve their livelihoods.
Under the EUFF, FAO has distributed certified rice seeds, fertilizers and pest management supplies to 10 000 vulnerable rural households. The organization is also supporting school garden projects with agricultural inputs and training and provides vegetable production inputs and technical assistance to 6 000 vegetable growers in urban and peri urban areas.
FAO's technical support to the Liberian government includes a variety of trainings 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.
The EUFF is also supporting complementary activities by UNDP, UNICEF and WFP which range from safety nets like food-for-work incentives for vulnerable households and school feeding programmes to dam- and road-building projects.