Kpatawee Farm lies twelve miles down a red mud track carved into a rain-washed Liberian forest. I arrived for the first time just as the rainy season had begun. The truck slipped and splashed through deep ruts and potholes as we passed small villages of thatched huts and scattered groups of farmers scratching seeds into the recently scorched earth of their rice farms. The Chinese at the end of the road were pioneering a new form of rice cultivation at a state-owned plantation in Liberia’s Bong County, a plantation, I later found, that cost far more to operate than the value of the rice it produced. We stopped the truck at the crest of the last hill, with the L-shaped Kpatawee valley stretching out in both directions before us. Chinese tractors crawled across the valley soil, carving and turning the stubble of last year’s upland rice crop. In the distance, a band of bright green marked the government’s irrigated plots. The hills rising from the valley bore the scars of a succession of slash-and-burn fields worked by farmers who could also pause to watch the tractors below, but who had little or no connection to the project. As we watched, two small figures in blue emerged from a block of buildings at the nearest corner of the valley and waved at us. We waved back, shifted into gear, and began the descent.
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