Nelly Bassily | May 18, 2009
Three brightly-clothed women enter a clearing strewn with charred trees. Each carries seashells filled with indigenous rice seed. They spend their day hunched over, using small spades to dig in rich soil. Between them, they plant three hectares of rice under a blazing sun. Their indigenous variety of rice will be ready for harvest in about six months.These women are the sole providers for their children. They belong to a local cooperative known as the Women and Children Development Secretariat. Their goal is to keep food on their table year round. In the past, indigenous rice crops have not providedbeen enough. So this year, the women will also plant NERICA rice.
The cooperative’s farm is in eastern Liberia’s Grand Gedha County. They planted the indigenous rice on the upland portion of their field. NERICA will be planted in the swampy lowland.
NERICA is short for New Rice for Africa. It’s a hybrid variety created to produce high yields, tolerate drought, and resist common pests. It is also early maturing, so farmers can get harvest more crops per year. The Liberian government promotes NERICA as an answer to the rainy season hunger gap. A German NGO donated NERICA seed to the cooperative.
Jeanet Gay is a member of the cooperative. She still mourns her husband, mother, father, and brothers, all lost during Liberia’s civil war. She is determined to take care of her children. She hopes that planting both indigenous and NERICA rice will provide enough food and income.
Betty Doh is the founder of the cooperative. She also hopes that the addition of NERICA will boost their rice yields. But she knows NERICA is not a guaranteed solution. She observes that the cooperative lacks fertilizer and effective pest deterrence. These inputs are important to achieving good yields with NERICA. And unlike indigenous rice seed, which can be saved year after year, NERICA seed should be purchased every two years.