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Ebola blocks Mercy Trip to Liberia – rescheduled for early autumn

By Staff | May 13, 2016

A new case of Ebola was confirmed Friday April 1, 2016 in Liberia, less than three months after that country was declared free of the deadly virus and only three days after the World Health Organization announced the end of an international emergency to contain and eliminate it. It was also a day before a Shepherdstown engineer and Technical Director, Engineers w/o Borders Int, Roger Ethier had scheduled a booking into Monrovia, Liberia to teach cutting age rice irrigation to 30 students at Lofa Community College and to set-up a 10-acre demonstration site using a new patented portable water pump to supply water to the higher elevations of rice patties in the northern province of Lofa. On April 1, 2016 Lofta Province together with two other northern provinces in Liberia were sealed off from the public by the military and trip from the U.S. to Liberia was postponed.

A week earlier Liberia had sealed-off its Lofa Province border with Guinea. Guinea, which had been declared free of Ebola in December, also has been confronting a new cluster of cases that first emerged in February. The W.H.O. said in a separate statement on Friday that the Guinean health authorities had been using an experimental vaccine in an effort to contain that flare-up, injecting nearly 800 people who have come into contact with the eight known patients, all in two southern prefectures.

Agriculture employs 70 percent of Liberia’s working population, making it a crucial sector in Liberia. Almost all rural farming communities depend primarily on rain fed agriculture to grow their crops. A great number of poor families in Liberia face poverty, hunger, food insecurity and malnutrition when agriculture which is the main livelihood activity is hampered. Agricultural production is greatly impacted by changes in rainfall patterns, including when rains are delayed, or are either too much or too little to support crop growth. Managing rainwater and soil moisture more effectively and using supplemental and small-scale irrigation will be essential to improving the livelihoods of farmers in rain fed areas.

More effective utilization of water and moisture on farms can cut losses during dry periods. Irrigation allows farmers to grow a second, often higher-value crop, such as rice and vegetables that are more sensitive to water-stress throughout the year.

Once farmers are able to grow more lucrative crops, they are on the road to improved livelihoods and food security. The host of this assignment is a community college in Western Liberia known as Lofa County Community College. The college has 3.8 hectares of developed swamp under rice cultivation which is used as a demonstration site for agriculture students specializing in lowland rice production, and for the production of seed rice for sale under the Enterprise Development Activity supported by the USAID Food for Enterprise Development (FED) Program.

Due to prolong dry periods, water has not reached the tail end of the swamp since the inception of the project. LCCC Agriculture Department wants to conduct an assessment to determine why water does not flow completely throughout the swamp and wants to develop a surface irrigation system to correct the situation. However, the college does not have an irrigation engineer nor money to hire a paid consultant to perform this task. It is expected that the irrigation expert will help LCCC to design a surface irrigation system in the swamp that would ensure water coverage throughout the swamp. The volunteer will work with 30 college students and faculty members.

In the past, Liberian farmers relied entirely on the rains to grow crops, whether for home consumption or sale. The farmers understood the seasons; they knew when to prepare their fields and when to sow seed. The rains were distributed somewhat evenly over the rainy season, and farmers knew which time of the year the rainy season would be long or short. Crop yields were dependent mainly on the quality of seed, nutrients in the soil and farm management practices; farmers had control over these factors. However, these circumstances are changing quickly.

Today, because of the changing climate, rains have become highly unpredictable. Rains can be delayed, or farmers experience drought conditions or excess rainfall that negatively impacts crop growth. Unpredictable rains affects crop yields that farmers have no control over. These changing rain patterns put food security and the economic well-being of the communities at stake.

The objective of this assignment was for the expert irrigation engineer to assist LCCC conduct an assessment to determine why water does not flow completely through the swamp and to help the college develop a surface irrigation system to correct the problem.

It assumed that when this irrigation challenge is resolved, the college will be able to cultivate rice in this swamp and have three harvests yearly and use the income from the sales to sustain facilities provided to the college by FED.

About the Author

Roger R. Ethier, MS, Agricultural Engineer – Sustainable Technologist 1980 2016 is Co-Founder and Technical Director of Engineers without Borders International, Shepherdstown, (donortable. org). Specialist in irrigation and water systems and experienced in project management in rural agricultural villages for multi-faceted sustainable agricultural projects, family garden start-ups, system designs for solar, wind, biomass, crop drying and other renewable technologies, system and hardware maintenance, cost estimating, site analysis, needs evaluations and on-site energy assessments. Provided project management and technical expertise for utilization of solar photovoltaics, wind electric, anaerobic digestion for heating and lighting systems, water filtration plants using sand filters, ram water pumps, geothermal for HVAC and a plethora of other sustainable technologies for homeowners, industrial applications, agricultural rural villages and general applications.

Most recently Mr Ethier designed and fabricated (patent pending) The Lil Sprout, a rainwater solar portable pump for homeowners and farming applications, The L’il Sprout returns 100% savings for water and sewerage costs to some homeowners who have flower and vegetable gardens, and shrubs in three months or less. When ruggedized with a larger battery and compatible solar panels the systems are used in many applications like rice paddies upgrade (as in Liberia). (50 percent of all profits are donated to EWBI projects.)


The L’il Sprout solar rainwater irrigation system itself has a very interesting history. It was originally developed by Ethier on assignments as a stand-alone irrigation system using rainwater from the buildings at refugee centers and large orphanages on four continents . Many are in E. European countries that reconfigured after the Soviet collapse and displaced hundreds of thousands of humans.

Others are in Africa where Malaria and AIDS destroyed many families. (100% of donations to EWBI are used on the project). In the U.S., a similar stand-alone system is now operational at the Community Gardens, Ranson, where gardens of vegetables are donated daily to the local food pantru and Meals on Wheels.