Prof. Vo Tong Xuan Builds Friendship with Sierra Leone Farmers Through Rice Cultivation

In his eighties, Prof. Dr. Vo Tong Xuan, an agricultural expert known as "Dr. Rice" is still working hard to bring wet rice cultivation techniques from Vietnam to Africa, helping the Africans overcome food shortages in a sustainable way. Sierra Leone is the first African country supported by the professor and his team.
June 27, 2023 | 14:21

In 2006, through a company's introduction, the then Sierra Leone's Ambassador to Beijing (China), Sahr Johnny, met Prof. Dr. Vo Tong Xuan to discuss how to help his country produce food.

"Vietnam has risen from the lack of food to become the second largest rice exporter in the world, so I think I can bring my experience to help Sierra Leone. I gave my word to the Ambassador and he arranged for me to visit Sierra Leone to survey the land", said Vo Tong Xuan.

Prof. Vo Tong Xuan Builds Friendship with Sierra Leone Farmers Through Rice Cultivation
Prof. Dr. Vo Tong Xuan on a visit to Africa to guide people to grow rice.

Xuan's first trip to Sierra Leone was paid for by himself. During a week in Sierra Leone, he traveled around, interacting with tribal chiefs and farmers to learn about their practices. He also discussed with the rice research staff at Rokupr to understand the difficulties in research and technology transfer.

Xuan noticed that Sierra Leone has vast land and sparse people. Its climate conditions are quite similar to the Mekong Delta. Most people there grew a crop of rice a year and had not yet grasped advanced rice-growing techniques. Irrigation water was completely dependent on natural conditions, no irrigation system had been built yet. Therefore, they could only grow 2-3 tons of rice per hectare.

According to the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development website, on June 9, 2023, Sierra Leone, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), and Vietnam signed a South-South and Triangular Cooperation agreement (SSTC). The project, with an estimated budget of USD 5 million, is implemented through the Unilateral Trust Fund (UTF) from Sierra Leone.

During the four years of implementation, Vietnam will provide Sierra Leone with expertise in rice value chain development. Experts and technicians specialized in rice, irrigation, breeding, mechanization, and post-harvest management will be sent to different locations, including research stations. Capacity-building initiatives such as study tours, field training, and trainer programs will be implemented to empower local stakeholders.

More than a year after the survey, the "Sierra Leone Food Safety Working Group" led by Prof. Dr. Vo Tong Xuan was established. He went to Sierra Leone again, bringing 50 high-yielding rice varieties and 10 high-quality rice varieties from the Mekong Delta. Rice varieties were tested at the Mange Bureh and the Rokupr research farm. Engineers designed and built an irrigation system of 200 hectares at the Mange Bureh experimental area. Vietnamese experts helped the locals to secure two big successes: planting two rice crops per year, producing about 4.7 tons of rice per hectare. The growing period was shortened to 95-100 days. The experts also stored enough rice seeds for large-scale planting.

Appreciating this achievement, Vice President of Sierra Leone Solomon Berewa said that if Vietnam helps Sierra Leone to experiment and organize food production according to Mekong Delta's techniques, not only will Sierra Leone farmers be benefited, but Vietnam can also join Sierra Leone in exporting rice from Sierra Leone's Freetown port to West African countries.

At an international webinar on food security and nutrition in May 2022, when talking about his trips to Sierra Leone to help the local farmers grow rice, Prof. Dr. Vo Tong Xuan passionately decalred his mission to help African people. "In Africa, food lies mainly in the soil, there are abundant human resources available, mainly young people who are eager to work. By equipping them with skills, tools, and technology for production, Africa will surely defeat the "enemy of hunger," ensuring food security and sustainable development," he said.

Prof. Vo Tong Xuan Builds Friendship with Sierra Leone Farmers Through Rice Cultivation
Prof. Dr. Vo Tong Xuan talks with a Vietnamese farmer.

After the successful trial in Sierra Leone, Professor Xuan and his colleagues continued to visit Nigeria, Sudan, Mozambique, Rwanda, Burundi, and Liberia to survey. "If guided, African farmers can do very well in agriculture. However, to do so, we need many factors to support and accompany their development," he said, from his experience on the trips.

"Using short-term, high-yield rice varieties and building irrigation systems, we can absolutely produce three crops a year in Africa. This will make a positive contribution to food security in the region and around the world. We can support African countries by transferring experience, technology, and techniques of rice cultivation. I look forward to international organizations joining hands to support African countries. If we can have more agencies participating to support Africa, especially financially, we can fully realize all these efforts," said the professor.

According to data from the Institute for Africa and Middle East Studies, over the past 20 years, Vietnam has sent more than 2,000 agricultural experts to help African countries grow rice, corn, and fish in the form of tripartite cooperation such as FAO-Africa-Vietnam, IFAD-Africa-Vietnam or JICA-Africa-Vietnam. Cooperation programs have achieved certain successes, helping to significantly increase rice and fish farming productivity of a number of African countries.
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