IVS Farmers In Karene And Port Loko Districts Giving Their Backs to Unproductive Rice Cultivation Practices
Inland Valley Swamp (IVS) in Sierra Leone is one of the promising ecologies that will help comfortably reduce or even halt the soaring annual import cost of rice into the country. Because Sierra Leoneans tenaciously and uncompromisingly hold on to daily eating rice, their staple food, it can be said that this commodity is implicitly linked with potential and significant socio-economic risks, and even violent political unrests when in short supply or unavailable. Therefore, succeeding political regimes of the country over the years have continued to tacitly but unwillingly accommodate the uphill and obviously though, the unacceptable and whooping annual import bill of 200 million dollars a year; and at least, for now.
But who told you that a hungry man is not an angry man and therefore cannot be capable of resorting to anything that will not augur well for the peaceful existence of society? It is no wonder that the position of the Bio regime to be on the heels of those who have the resources or investments, our political leaders, some well-placed individuals, groups and institutions including the public and private sectors to reverse this costly and potentially catastrophic or explosive trend are incontrovertible and well founded.
Although IVS soils are mostly fertile to successfully cultivate rice and other food crops with many having the advantage of enough water throughout the year and hence one decisive answer to this apparently difficult question facing our farmers and our nation, In the 1970s and until now, very huge agricultural programmes including Integrated Agricultural Development Projects (IADPs) that covered all the political regions in the country did not bring any sustainable answer to the question. The Swamps developed by these projects were abandoned by farmers following the end of the lives of the projects. They reverted to their original conditions with big trees, the structures that much was invested in to construct were of no use. Infact, the drainages constructed were so deep, oversized and irrelevant that the available pool of water in the swamps were quickly drained away with no water now available for farmers to productively carry out rice production and other short term crops.
So why the Smart Valley Project in four countries in the sub region including Sierra Leone? Simply put and in the words of Smart Valley Project (SVP) Coordinator in Sierra Leone, Dr. Dennis Taylor who at the same time is a plant pathologist at the Rokupr Agricultural Research Centre (RARC) told farmers and other stakeholders at Gbenti, Karene District that “It is to circumvent the issues and challenges faced in previous efforts to make our IVS meaningfully contribute to rice self-sufficiency. In other words, the Smart Valley project avoided the traditional development concept often described by development experts as “Top-Down Approach. A case where experts assume that their clientele or farmers know very little or nothing about their own development and therefore should be lectured into knowing what they believe is right. Since farmers then wanted to benefit from the project resources they brought to them and were poor, they pretended to agree with them but ignored and reverted to their traditional practice when such projects came to an end.
The SVP on the other hand fully recognized that for a development project to be convincingly accepted, owned and be sustainable, the direct target beneficiaries or farmers should be clearly seen fully involved and made to participate in the planning and implementation of the project intended to develop them. And so, the SVP training course conducted gave the opportunity to the farmers in the seven locations in the Karene and Port Loko Districts to learn, do and make their own rational judgments on the benefits of using very simple, affordable and locally available materials and technologies to control unwanted water in their swamps that too often reduce their yields, learn best-bet agronomic practices that also significantly increase their rice yields and process their rice in a way that will be unquestionably marketable thus not only putting more money into their pockets but at the same time making the country self-sufficient in rice, hence saving much and needed foreign exchange for other development issues .
And so, in the swamps they stumped existing trees, built dams to store available water for irrigation, construct bunds and other structures including head bunds,perepherial irrigation channels, main drainage systems and leveling and building interior bunds that divided the swamps into convenient plots . One of the beneficiaries of the training Isatu Mansaray at Lokomasama said:
“I have now come to know and deeply appreciate that before now, and every year, large and uncontrolled water regimes in our swamps deprived our rice plants of needed plant food through erosion. Besides, it is not at all times rice plants need water, and so its supply to rice plots needs to be regulated”. She further shared her experience with the organizers of the training saying: “Stagnant water even also created the environment where iron toxicity thrives that was damaging to the growth and development of our rice plants leading to huge losses in our yield, enthusiastically adding that: “I am convinced beyond all reasonable doubts that many of our practices were not of help to give us more rice at the end and therefore I am now giving my back to what I was doing before for what I have now learned from the SVP training”.
In addition to water control techniques, IVS farmers at the seven locations in the Karene and Port Loko districts also learned from the SVP training through their active involvement and participation the merits of best bet agronomic practices that significantly increase rice yields in IVS compared to some of their unproductive practices. Aminata Sesay chair lady of Katic Farmers Association, Katic village, Debia chiefdom explained what she learned and appreciated during the training:
“I steadily and convincingly realized that directly broadcasting my seed rice in the rice field is not only a wasteful practice but the seeds are too often congested in the field that they find it difficult to satisfactorily grow to give their best; but nursing rice and transplanting them young in the field with the recommended spacing provides the seedlings planted to get enough opportunity to maneuver to get adequate food, water and nutrients that consequently give the farmer meaningful returns.”
The farmers also discussed the value of timely and regular weeding and learned how to do it by using simple machines than the primitive and laborious method of hand weeding. The vital need for timely fertilizer application, an innovative post-harvest practice of parboiling rice were also exhaustively discussed followed with practical exercises that were deeply appreciated by the farmers and have begun replicating what they have gained through the training to other IVS farmers in their respective communities. Along this line, the Information, Communications and Documentation Unit of the Sierra Leone Agricultural Research Institute (SLARI) has produced a video documentary of the training intended for other IVS farmers in the country to watch it and learn from the experiences of farmers who directly benefited from the training. The trainees also discussed the challenges they are facing in the rice sub sector including the absence of post-harvest materials and equipment such as drying floors and milling machines.
While SLARI undertook this land mark training in partnership with AfricaRice and in active collaboration with the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (MAF) and Collective Initiative for Development Sierra Leone, the project was funded by the governments of Japan and Sierra Leone.
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