1.2 Pattern of Agricultural Production

Liberian agriculture can be divided into three distinct patterns of production

  • Concessions
  • Commercial Farms
  • Traditional Farms.

These vary considerably in organization, efficiency and output.

a. Concessions

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 150,000 acres.

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 year.

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 production.

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".