Old update: first rice planting 2009

22 March, 2011 • Viktor Bengtsson • 4 minutes to read

(Post from old blog.)

I've closed down an older photo blog and will transfer some photos over to this blog in 3 posts. The photos are old (and comes courtesy of ADA/LAP), but the text is new. This is the first post which describes my involvement in the first planting of rice at the ADA/LAP farm in Foya, Lofa county, Liberia.

I made my first trip (of many) up to Foya in June, 2009, to help calibrate the grain drills and get the planting operation started. We started our trip early in the morning and arrived late in the evening the same day. Experiencing the road from Monrovia to Foya can be a little bit overwhelming the first time. I wasn't part of the original plan for the trip and consequently had to squeeze into the back seat of one of the pickups. I tweeted "12h into our drive. My legs were killing me a bit there in the beginning; but, I conquered in the end and have now resolutely killed them. 23 Jun 09". After a good but short night's sleep we went out to the farm and got to work on the grain-drills. ADA/LAP runs grain-drills from Sunflower. 15 feet wide and designed for no-till, or minimal-tillage agriculture.

Note: No-till or minimal-tillage agriculture, which seeks to minimize costs and environmental impact (CO2 exhausts and soil degradation etc.) by reducing tillage (discing, plowing and harrowing) gets very little mention outside the technical discussions among farmers themselves. Its reliance on herbicides will perhaps never endear it to the proponents of organic agriculture, but the net environmental and financial impact still merits it a place in the contemporary discussion on food and farming.

Sunflower grain drills in Africa

Sunflower grain-drills (15 ft).

John Deere machines in Africa

A lot of horsepower.

With few exceptions, ADA/LAP runs modern John Deere machines. This has presented a few challenges as the common fuel rail and electronic fuel pump is a bit sensitive to low-quality diesel. When I came into the company several machines were already down due to problems with the fuel system. It took us a couple of months to learn how to treat the fuel properly, including how to buy and transport it. Buying a tanker of fuel in Liberia is a complicated operation requiring double-, triple- and quadruple checks. A tanker full of clean diesel bought in Monrovia could (and often will) arrive in Foya with a few hundred gallons of water in it. The water is added as a very poor attempt to cover up the fact that the truck driver has stolen and sold fuel on the trip up. To add insult to injury a lot of aspiring fuel thieves add dirty water since they believe it more resembles diesel. The water separates from the fuel but the dirt mixes in nicely and clogs up the fuel system, burning the fuel pumps when it gets into the machines. For those of you who think an electronic fuel pump costs pennies: think again.

The first half of the day was a bit confused and contained a lot of discussion. Calibrating a grain-drill means setting it to dispense a certain amount of grain per area (kg/hectare or pound/acre). Its really not all that hard if you have the correct page from the manual to guide you. We did not. Consequently we spent about half a day with trial-and-error before someone saw fit to announce that "yes, we have the whole manual at the office". The debate served us well since we also had a couple of potential hirings with us who were being evaluated; unbeknownst to me I was one of them (I was not employed by ADA/LAP at this time).

Viktor Bengtsson debating on the field

The day included plenty of debate.

Calibrating planting machines

A call to the lone star state from the lone star nation-state.

Viktor Bengtsson weighing rice

Weighing rice.

Once we got the right page from the manual making the setting was easy. The actual calibration part (after making the setting) consists of catching and measuring the grain while running the grain-drill. Now, "necessity is the mother of all invention" maybe a bit too strong a statement in this context; but we had to catch the grain in something. The second photo below will reveal the method of catchment to the discerning reader.

Viktor Bengtsson and Elvis Morris discussing settings

We've got the right page.

Testing our grain drill calibration

What's missing in this picture?

Planting started the next day, but by that time we were already on our way down to Monrovia. The process of clearing new farm land was progressing at the same time as planting it took about one month to finish it. This turned out to work in our favor once it came time to harvest. More on this in the next post.

Planting rice in Liberia

Not straight, but ok as a first try.

Rice germinating in Liberia