1.2 Pattern of Agricultural Production
Liberian agriculture can be divided into three distinct patterns
- Commercial Farms
- Traditional Farms.
These vary considerably in organization, efficiency and
Since 1926, 7 foreign firms have obtained concessions on
large land areas (of between 2,000 and 100,000 acres each)
to start rubber plantations. In recent years, two concessions
for oil palm plantations have been granted, but they are not
yet productive. Together, the nine concessions cultivate about
The concessions employ highly trained staff and, thus, secure
modern management and the application of modern production
techniques. They use high yielding clonal material, are rather
capital intensive and have low costs per unit of production,
which makes the payment of relatively high wages possible.
This, in turn, allows them to enforce a relatively strict
work discipline which results in high labour productivity.
The 7 rubber concessions are the source of 60 per cent of
value added in agriculture, 72 per cent of the country's rubber
production, and they employ about 24,000 workers. The gross
value of output per worker is about US $ 970 per year.
b. Commercial Farms
The success of the rubber concessions, availability of cheap
land, supply of seedlings by the concessions and their guarantee
to .buy the produce caused Liberian entrepreneurs to start
their own rubber farms around the concession areas. With the
construction of roads, the number of Liberian commercial farms
increased, and some went into other production branches such
as fruits, vegetable, coffee, oil palm, poultry, hogs, ere.
Today, about 5,000 Liberian commercial farmers cultivate an
area of nearly 200,000 acres and have farms of 10-500 acres
each. While some of these commercial farms operate very well
and use modern production methods, thus achieving high yields,
the majority is much less efficient than the concessions.
Often, low yielding varieties which are hardly worth the
tapping expenses are planted. Most of the commercial farms
are owned by "gentlemen farmers" who live in Monrovia
and have other main occupations. In consequence, management
and supervision are very weak and limited to weekends. The
result is an average yield of 643 lbs. only per acre against
1,261 lb, for the concessions. In spite of considerably lower
wages, many commercial farms cannot operate profitably and
do not tap the trees at all because of these low yields. The
low wage level, in turn, does not suffice for the livelihood
of the workers, so that many of them continue their traditional
farms and leave the plantation whenever work is required there.
The gross value of output per worker is about US $ 470 per
Change to high yielding clones and introduction of proper
management are the basic requirements for an improvement of
these rubber farms. Other commercial farms suffer from the
absence of regular guaranteed markets, so that some successful
entrepreneurs have recently given up their fruit and vegetable
c. Traditional Farms
The bulk of the rural population is engaged in traditional
farming which has remained more or less untouched by modern
methods. The majority of these peasants is illiterate and
unaware of alternative methods of agricultural production.
In the absence of any census, the number of farms can be estimated
at around 150,000, and the average size might be 5 acres.
They concentrate on rice and cassava and often grow some coffee,
cocoa, palm kernel, fruits, vegetables and piassava, and keep
poultry, goats and sheep as well.
Most of the cultivation is done on tribal land under the
slash and burn system. One can assume that, out of 10 million
acres under shifting cultivation, about 750,000 acres are
under cultivation for 1-2 years on a 8- 15 years bush fallow
rotation. This type of farming produces meagre results and
leads to a low level of living for the majority of the rural
population. It is difficult to estimate the gross value of
output per worker, but this is likely to be around US $ 100-
150 per year. This is the sector which is paid the least attention
by government schemes, partly because it is the most difficult
to modernize and to render more productive.
These farms are often referred to as subsistence farms, a
term which is somewhat misleading. Today, there are hardly
any farmers engaged exclusively in subsistence agriculture;
almost everyone is, to some extent integrated in the monetary
sector. Cash is required for expenditures such as taxes, clothing,
medicines and educational expenses to an amount of about US
$ t00 per family per year. It is raised by the sale of some
products and by the off farm work temporary or permanent of
family members. In a recent survey on traditional farming
(21), 168 out of 229 farmers reported that at least one adult
member of the household is engaged in non-farm work and is
employed on rubber or lumber concessions, in mining, road
construction, cutting firewood for sale, etc. One can estimate
that, of the total (cash and kind) income of these traditional
farmers, 75- 80 per cent represents subsistence income while
with 25- 20 per cent they are integrated in the monetary economy.
If the pattern of farming and the way of life of these people
has not been greatly influenced by the modern monetary economy,
this is because their integration in the modern ewnomy has
been at least for a certain period voluntary. If one has earned
some money, one can participate in the cash economy and enjoy
some products from the rural stores which are extremely well
stocked. If for health reasons, because of crop failure, of
age, etc. no cash income is available, one can easily go back,
for some time, to complete subsistence economy. Even the unavoidable
taxes, under the prevailing family system, will be paid by
a relative earning cash income. The traditional money capital
free type of farming has no built-in system to enforce participation
in the market economy, for instance, to raise funds to pay
interest, fuel, maintenance, ett. Because of the peculiar
type of farming, the term `traditional farm" seems to
be more appropriate than "subsistence farm".