19 July 2021, Banjul – FAO Liberia is adopting a new model of community gardening called Farming from a Box. Farming from a Box provides a scalable agricultural infrastructure to modernize community driven farming in a cost effective and sustainable way. The system comes equipped with solar power technology, irrigation systems, water purification resources, a greenhouse, office and cold storage facility. Eight such gardens are being established in the counties of Margibi, Bomi, Nimba and Bong. Through this intervention, the beneficiary farmers have undergone training on improved vegetable and poultry production. To better prepare the farmers for the set-up, management and operations of the community gardens, FAO Liberia sought technical support from FAO Gambia to learn from the experiences of its European Union funded MDG 1c Community Gardens. A four-person delegation comprising the FAO Liberia Head of Programmes, a representative from the Ministry of Agriculture and two farmers recently concluded a weeklong study tour to the Gambia.
The delegation visited the community vegetable gardens at Njoben in the Central River Region and Madina Lamin Kanteh in North Bank Region as well as other Agriculture centres in The Gambia. They held meetings with the Permanent Secretatry Ministry of Agriculture, the Director General Department of Agriculture, the Director Planning Services Department, the Director General Central Projects Coordination Unit, the Director General National Agricultural Research Institute, various officials of the Ministry of Agriculture. The visiting delegation also had interactive discussions with farmers in different communities.
During the meetings with officials of the Department of Agriculture and Gambian farmers, Mr. Octavius Quarbo, FAO Liberia Head of Programmes outlined the objective of the visit. He indicated that FAO Liberia is establishing eight vegetable and poultry integrated gardens in four counties in Liberia. Therefore, The Gambia having had success stories operating such gardens, they thought it prudent to undertake a study tour to learn lessons from The Gambia. “As we prepare the beneficiary farmers to take ownership and management of these gardens, we thought it pertinent to bring them to The Gambia to learn from their fellow farmers best agricultural practices to adopt,” he said.
Victor Kolleh, representing the Liberian Ministry of Agriculture noted that he was keen to learn about the relationship between the FAO Gambia, the Ministry of Agriculture and the farmers. “For FAO Gambia to successfully implement projects it needs close collaboration with the host government and the farmers and I want to explore and learn from this relationship, especially with regards to the vegetable-poultry integrated garden model,” he said.
The study tour follows deliberations between Mrs Mariatou Njie, FAO Representative in Liberia and Ms. Moshibudi Rampedi, FAO Representative in The Gambia. They look forward to other opportunities for FAO supported countries to learn from each other.
Farmers learning from each other
During the tour of the gardens, the delegation held interactive discussions with the farmers and shared experiences. The discussions centred on the composition of membership in the gardens, management structures, regulations, marketing, successes and challenges. The host farmers were open and forthcoming in sharing their experiences. They highlighted their strengths and weakness and pointed out potential issues and challenges their counterparts may encounter. The guest farmers also shared their knowledge and experiences, suggested some ideas for hosts to try out and invited them to visit Liberia to learn from them too.
Quizzed on his impression about the visit, Moses P. Willie, one of the farmers from Liberia said that he was very impressed with what he has seen and learned. “I am particularly impressed by the sense of ownership and unity amongst the farmers. This visited has inspired me more and I am even more motivated to ensure the success of our gardens back home”, he noted. He further noted that the discussions with their fellow farmers has accorded them the opportunity to anticipate the challenges they could encounter and therefore they could prepare themselves to mitigate them.
The Integrated Garden Model
The vegetable–poultry Integrated Community Garden Model implemented by FAO Gambia is a European Union-funded MDG1 C Project that was resoundingly successful. It has significantly improved the overall food security and the nutritional status of the households in the beneficiary communities. The farmers have been able to make more returns for investment from the integration of poultry with vegetable farming. The integration model provides an opportunity for vegetable residues to provide feed to poultry while poultry supplies the needed minerals to vegetables. Furthermore, the manure derived from poultry serves as an important organic fertilizer for vegetables and cheaper compared to chemical fertilizers. The waste from poultry speeds up the mineralization process, improves the soil structure and moisture-holding capacity, therefore improving soil fertility and subsequently increasing farm profitability.
According to Octavius Quarbo, the study has been a success as they have learned a lot from the Gambia experience. “The knowledge obtained and skills acquired will be shared with our respective beneficiary communities, in addition to leading the full establishment of leadership and adoption of management practices at each of the gardens”, he said.