Liberia Summary

Just got back from a trip to Liberia as a USAID Farmer to Farmer program volunteer. I gave workshops on fish marketing and quality control. Fish farming appeared to have come quite a ways from the days when a 200 square meter pond was big. Now, the minimum seems to be 400 square meter ponds, and the trend is to build ponds in the thousands of square meters by simply damming a valley and putting in a cement drain structure to control water depth in the pond.
Gone, too, are the days of just raising tilapia. All the farmers I talked to were raising tilapia, African bonytongue, and African catfish. They can spawn all three in the pond, although I think the bonytonge and catfish take longer to reach spawning age than tilapia. Even tilapia culture is advancing, with farmers sexing fingerlings and stocking all males for grow out.The bonytongue are a cool fish They sort of look like a cross between a buffalo fish and a sucker, but the lips are not fat lke the buffalo and sucker. The fish makes a nest by using grass and forming a bowl that’s about 2 feet across the rim of which can extend above the water. The male and female then lay their eggs in there, and when the eggs hatch, they burrow out of the bowl back into the pond with their young
Apparently this was introduced from Guinea. The barrage ponds will have grassy areas in their shallow ends and apparently this is the habitat for the bonytongue. The catfish are the bottom feeders and also crop tilapia fingerlings, and the tilapia eat plankton in the water column I think all three can be trained to eat feeds.
Feed is the input now that’s restricting higher yields from the ponds. Joe Sullivan, a retired ADF&Ger, does alot of this kind of volunteer work, and had trained some farmers there to miix wheat or rice bran with fish meal dust spoils available from the coastal fish smokers/driers and leaves of various crops. They mix the ingredients, run it through a food grinder and then dry the pellets so the feed will float. Some are trying this home made feed but no one I met had harvested yet to know results.
Surprisingly, some of the barrage pond owners said they were told not to feed their fish because their ponds were so big that it would be difficult to get the fish onto feed. This appears to be a misnomer, as all catfish farmers in the US feed their fish. Maybe more of an excuse than a practice. Most of the barrage pond farmers have livestock – usually pigs- in pens alongside their ponds and use the manure to fertilize the ponds – the few of which I saw had good blooms. All three species I found good to eat.Nearly everyone was on a 6 month harvest cycle – this just seemed to be written in stone as an accepted practice.
I’m trying to see if they could get some manufactured feeds in from Ghana. The Liberian fish farmers were getting $2/lb at the pond, and that’s higher than US catfish farmers get at the pond or what commercial salmon fishermen in Alaska get for most salmon species. The one Ghanaian fish feed manufacturer I contacted said food conversion rates for tilapia ranged from 1.3 to 1.6, With the relatively high price for fish, I hope some farmers will try to get some feed to see if it pays, and if so, they can order a container for their association and get the price down some. The only quote for a price i heard was about $1 per kilo for feed.
The Bong County Aquaculture Association, in addition to living in a county with a great name, were very coordinated in their membership. They had a team of technicians on their association board that did extension and were at harvests to collect weight data. They and other farmers also do the harvesting and selling for a farmer harvesting their pond so that the farmer whose pond is being harvested has a buffer between friends and family looking for free fish.
BCAA as a group can supply all species of fingerlings, and have an established price structure for each species and size range of fingerlings. They also have established a price of $2/lb and might have changed that to $4/kg at their meeting I attended that was part of the workshop, but I’m not exactly sure. Some of their pricing seems to be what “people can afford” rather than what the market will bear, and I think that will evolve as time goes on. Some new fish plants may be in the works for the marine fish that supply much of the country’s fish to market. If these plants start to export fish because they can meet international quality standards, that may mean even less fish in the upcountry farmers, and more opportunity for fish farmers if fish prices go up.These volunteer trips are necessarily limited to a couple weeks incountry and nearly a week of travel to and from as I still have my real jobs in Alaska It would be nice to go to Liberia for a month and be able to see some fish stockings and harvests and sales to better see how it all works.
A highlight of this trip was my first deepsea fishing trip. We caught a nice sailfish on our boat, while two other boats owned by friends of the captain caught wahoo and tuna. Our captain said he had similar fish quality and preservation issues as the fish farmers, so that could be another opportunity to assist them next trip, if they want to get serious about selling their catches.Some incountry random notes. Liberian dollars (also called “Liberty dollars”) and US dollars are accepted interchangeably at a standard rate of $100 LD to $1 US. I did not hear or see of any higher black market rates, so that makes paying for stuff easy.
Of course, I looked for rice and sauce (with Club beer) everyday, but sometimes in ex-patlandia of Monrovia it can be hard to find. Bananas are my other West Africa staple – they are all sweet- whether green or yellow skins. For the foods I ate, rice and sauce on the street or in a Food Shop was about US $1.20 to $3.00. Proteins included marine fish, goat, pork, beef, and wild deer and wild cutting grass (that’s the Sierra Leone Krio name for it. They call it “Grass Cutter” in Liberia. ). The same dish at a restaurant was $10 to $15. Clean water is now readily available. You can get it in bottles or the street equivalent, which is in a sealed bag that you chew off the corner with your teeth and suck it out of the bag. People seem healthier overall now than they did 30 years ago when clean water was not as prevalent. I had a touch of mild diarrhea only a couple times – and ironically, both times from eating the more expensive restaurant food.
The large (1 qt?) Club beer is $2.25 a bottle at a cook shop to $6.00 a bottle at a restaurant. Can’t tell you what imported beers went for because I only drank Club. They also have hard cider from South Africa – Savannah – which I want to say was about $4.00/12 oz bottle and a good something. Pop was $2/can or so.
Bananas ranged from US 5 cents each in rural areas to 10 cents each in Monrovia. French fries were US $5.00 for a big plate at the Royal Hotel’s restaurant, and Landeh (sp?), my new favorite Lebanese dish which is a strained yogurt with olive oil eaten with triangles of pita bread, was $4.00 per plate at the Royal Hotel bar. Why I know these prices is because you can’t get Liberian rice and sauce at many high end restaurants, so I had to get something else. I think that and free range goats should be outlawed in Liberia. I think cola nuts were 3 for 25 cents.The only non-food and drink stuff prices I noted was that gasoline and diesel were about US $3.00/gal. Gasoline is sold in 1 gallon glass jars and smaller glass jars on roadside stands, even in the small villages. Of course, there are gas stations, too, for automobiles. The same TVS motorcycles in Sierra Leone are ubiquitous in Liberia.
Hotel rooms with AC and running water ranged from $50 at Jackie’s place north of Gbarnga to $50 to $75 at the Passion Hotel in Gbarnga to $50 at the Vonjo in Tubmanburg to $100 at the Royal Hotel in Monrovia to $200 next door at the Royal Grande Hotel. The Royal and Grand Royal hotels include breakfast in the price and have coffee/tea pots in the rooms with the Nescafe instant coffee packets and teas provided. The Royal Grande Hotel is about the plushest hotel I can remember staying in anywhere. Even a new toothbrush every morning when they clean the room. The Monrovia hotels had 24 hour power, cable tv and wifi internet. The upcountry hotels had power from dusk to an hour past dawn or so, some tv, and wifi internet everywhere except for Vonjo.Grand Royal takes Mastercard and Paypal, but I couldn’t get my paypal to work. Might have needed to clear it for overseas beforehand. They also take Visa Debit but not Visa Credit Card. Cell coverage was just about everywhere I went, so if you have a smartphone you can get internet wherever you’re at. You can get a sim card from either Lonestar of Cellone and then buy time just about everywhere as you need it.
A high end taxi ride (Solo Cab Co) was $15 to places near the Royal Grand to $25 when they had to take me across the bridge to the charter fishing place on the road to the old Hotel Africa. I never had to take the local taxi, which was only a few dollars or less from what I remember.I bought Sara two gifts. The first the bigger size wicker chair hand made in the country to take home as one of my checked bags for $2.75 without bargaining, along the roadside between Klay and Monrovia. I gave him a $5 cause that’s too much work for $2.75. I also bought her a pair of earrings for $5,00 at the Royal Grand Hotel. She bought me a 20’ Hewes craft for my birthday that I have to pick up Monday morning off the ferry from friends of ours that moved to LaConner. So we’ll call it even.
Lots of imported grapes and apples now from South Africa, but don’t know the prices. Also a lot of local cucumbers sold at roadside stands. Rice was $1.50 per kg for a farmer, but not sure what it cost to buy in the market. Only got country rice my last day in Monrovia. Everywhere else was white rice. The fishing charter I went on was with Captain Flash at Extreme Liberia Charters – $200/day, and that includes everything to drink and eat, starting with coffee when you arrive to home made sandwiches, water, beer, hard cider, pop, munchies – they even brought cold Lebanese style pizza. We were out all day and I had the feeling whether I and the other paying client went or not, the captain and his friend deckhand would have been out there fishing as they loved it Both of them are in construction/real estate for their real jobs and just do the chartering on the weekends, although Flash said when the tuna are in, everyday is a fishing day. The $400 they got from us barely covered the fuel and food/drink. They have quality gear – we fished 8 rods with out riggers and all topwater teasers (I think that’s what they’re called ) with artificial bait behind the teaser. We got in a pod of about 100 spinner type dolphins. They also see killer, humpback and pilot whales. They also have a restaurant that is open on Sunday, at least and I think you can get your catch cooked there. Flash let us take some of the sailfish, which I gave to my host Patrick and driver Tamba, but I didn’t get a report yet on what they thought of it. The road to Gbarnga was perfect. North to Senaquellie was the red laterite clay crap, as is the road to Voinjama from what I heard. The road to Tubmanburg was paved but lots of pot holes.
The trip home started with the flight late by 5 or 6 hours out of Monrovia. Luckily the flight from Brussels to Chicago was delayed about 20 min, and I just made that flight. Then Chicago to Seattle delayed another 2.5 hours but with all the delays, I got home to pouring rain on top of a foot of snow in Juneau. Lovely.
Have to pick up the boat off the ferry this morning and see if I can squeeze in a day of work before I crash from jet lag again.