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Irrigation and drainage
Evolution of irrigation development
The irrigation potential in Liberia is estimated at 600 000 ha, consisting mainly of freshwater swamps. No up-to-date information on irrigated areas in Liberia is available. In 1987, the total water managed area was 20 100 ha (Table 4 and Figure 2), comprising:
- About 100 ha equipped for full or partial control irrigation, consisting mainly of small development projects supported through international or bilateral cooperation;
- 2 000 ha of equipped wetlands and inland valley bottoms, mainly cropped with rice;
- 18 000 ha of non-equipped cultivated wetlands, swamps and inland valley bottoms.
FAO’s Special Program for Food Security (SPFS) 2000-2002 had the following aims:
- Developing 50 ha of small swamps, complete with drainage/irrigation channels and required water control structures;
- Training of farmers and extension staff in the utilization and repair of treadle and petrol pumps;
- Training of farmers and extension staff in water control practices at field level, irrigated field maintenance and improved cultivation methods (particularly rice and vegetables);
- Demonstration of low-cost small-scale irrigation technologies on 10 ha using treadle pumps and petrol pumps, and of water management practices with the participation of farmers and extension workers.
Role of irrigation in agricultural production, the economy and society
The main irrigated crop is rice. It is grown in the swamps in addition to the upland rice. Shifting cultivation in the uplands is still the main technique: the secondary forest is cleared and burned, and upland rice is cropped during one or two years combined with different food crops (cassava, common groundnuts or vegetables). Afterwards, the area returns to bush fallow for 8-10 years. This system is the preferred mode of farming in Liberia and has the advantage of maintaining the ecological system in equilibrium. However, this system cannot be applied in areas where a higher population density prevents the restoration of soil fertility due to too short a fallow period. In those areas, swamp rice is cultivated in addition to upland crops.
While in the mid-1980s about 235 000 ha of rice were cultivated, this figure dropped to 120 000 ha in 2003, leading to a decrease in total rice production from about 290 000 tonnes in the mid-1980s to 110 000 tonnes in 2003. In 1995, the yield of upland rice was estimated to be 1.3 t/ha, while yields of swamp rice were about 1.6 t/ha, and yields in equipped wetlands and swamps reached more than 2 t/ha.
Gender and land tenure with regard to water management has been a well-known problem for projects in Liberia.