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The Forgotten Rokupr Agricultural Research Station: Which way forward?
By Essa Thaim Kurugba, The New Rising Sun, USA
May 4, 2009, 17:37
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Established about half a century and decade ago, the Rokupr Rice Research Station was a darling vision of the early colonialists who among other considerations were fascinated by the fertile ecologies and enviable terrain of the Scarcies coastline. This region mirrored a microcosm of all the common ecologies in Sierra Leone and West Africa at large. There were extensive stretches of mangrove, upland, inland valley swamps, and boliland. These natural endowments are still prevalent in Rokupr today still as if in their virgin state. The colonialists established similar research institutions in other regions in West Africa-oil palm in Nigeria and cocoa in Ghana. With rice as a popular diet in West Africa and around the world, Sierra Leone in the shadows of Rokupr Rice Research was put on the spot light of fame and popularity. Rokupr became internationally known.

Rice Plants

This Research Institution in Rokupr had technical and professional affiliations with other research institutions around the world.  They include, The International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in Manila - Philippines, the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) Ibadan, Nigeria, the Food of Agriculture Organization (FAO) Rome, the UNDP and the West African Rice Development Association (WARDA) Liberia, Monrovia. Technical cooperation, joint research, personnel and cultural exchange of ideas through scientific literature, visitations, consultancies, and free flow of information was firmly established between Rokupr these agricultural conglomerates.

The Rokupr Research of Pathology and Breeding were rated to compete with any agricultural research institute in any advanced country in the world. Rice stains from other research centers were usually taken to Rokupr for research. Within a short time, Rokupr assumed research prowess. New and healthy rice stains such as ROK 1 continuining to ROK 16 (WARDA 1984)., ADNY-301, LAC-23, NACIN-11, TOX 502-SLR,  ITA1 16, IRATI 70  were  researched and developed  in the laboratories at  Rokupr, Diseased stains both local and international were diagnosed  and remedied in Rokupr. Stains of different varieties of rice from different parts of the world were interbreed with local varieties to produce exotic germ plasmas of greater health and resistance to disease.

A Research Institution like this cannot thrive any where without a strong infrastructural base. Research laboratories were equipped; staff quarters (both junior and senior) were solid. Equipments in the form of tractors and other logistics were available.  Buildings were periodically renovated, ware houses were full, canteens were bubbling with life and the general demeanor of workers spelt bliss. The roads leading to research trial fields were easily assessable. The roads in the compound were paved; trees, shrubs, and grass were trimmed on a frequent basis. The compound mirrored an attractive panorama of rural beauty. Scientists both local and visiting were drawn from all over the world. Njala University, UNDP, FAO, North West Integrated Agricultural Development Project(NWIADP), the Adaptive Crop Research and Extension (ACRE) Project, and the Moyamba Integrated Development Project (MIRDP) all had stake in Rokupr. The research compound shared the campus and offices with teams from the Opration Nationale pour la Dveloppement de la Riziculture (ONADER) in Guinea, Freedom from Hunger Campaign (FFHC) in The Gambia; The Dutch, Swedish, and USAID Projects in Guinea-Bissau; National Crop Research Institute (NCRI), and the University of Port Harcourt in Nigeria and other international organizations were represented in the compound. There was research collaboration at all levels among the experts. Staffs were trained at both local and international institutions and morale was high. There was food self sufficiency in the country of which Rokupr was the driving force. What went wrong that this once high profile agricultural bedrock and nations pride should deteriorate to its present dismal condition? 

Adaptive Crop,Research

The present condition of Rokupr Rice Research is dismal. The one time elegant roads in the station premises are presently all gorges and death traps. The compound remains uncared for. Trees, shrubs and grass have overgrown and form a canopy over the compound. The trees are dens for giant snakes and other poisonous pests. Research trial fields are abandoned. There are no resident senior staffs and research activities have been suspended for ages. The compound looks marooned and deserted. The aura of research is dilapidated. Laboratories and staff quarters are ransacked and in dear need of renovation. Staff morale, dedication, and motivation are low and devoid of promise.  The roads, buildings, and research sites are in disuse. The once vaunted research center has been reduced to levity. What is the problem? Is it a lack of patriotism, economics, dedicated staff or a viable Director to resuscitate the station? Where are the scientists?

In my candid opinion, it is incontrovertible that the station needs a new cadre of dedicated staff, a new injection of funds to upgrade the infrastructure both physical and technical. There is need for a rebirth and reconstruction; a total review of the research mandate, training and recruitment of newly trained and viable research personnel. The station is in need of fresh political direction if Rokupr is to resume its competitiveness. There is urgent need for a solution. It is all clear that without a strong research base, the agricultural status quo of the country will remain doomed for many years to come. One of the purposes of this paper is to sensitize the political leadership that Rokupr is forgotten. Under the able leadership of President Koroma, it is no doubt that this issue will be given the utmost attention it deserves.

In the interest of accelerated agricultural progress in Sierra Leone, reviving Rokupr Rice Research is highly desirable.

© Copyright by Awareness Times Newspaper in Freetown, Sierra Leone.

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