Agriculture in Liberia
Liberia is located on the western bulge of Africa, bordered to the north by Guinea, to the east by Côte D’Ivoire, to the west by Sierra Leone, and to the south by the Atlantic Ocean.
Liberia’s terrain ranges from the low and sandy coastal plains to rolling hills and dissected plateau further inland. The country occupies 96 917 square kilometres, and has a population of over 5 million people Liberia, as Africa’s oldest republic is scenic, diverse and naturally resource rich. The soils present in Liberia range from weakly developed muds and hydromorphic clays along the coast and the inland swamps, to shallow soils on the plateaus and mountains and lateritic hills and terraces in the north. The soil patterns are determined by differences in age, parent material, physiography, and present and past climatic conditions. Latosols are the most widespread soil type, followed by lithosols, regosols and alluvial or swamp soils in that order.
The climate is tropical, hot and humid. Liberia is one of the wettest countries in the world with an average rainfall of 4,650 mm per year in the coastal areas and 2,240 mm in the interior. The rainy season lasts from late April to October, and the dry season from November to April. Especially in the last months of the dry season farmers experience lack of access to clean water. Temperatures range from 24 – 300C. Liberia is climatically very suitable for growing cacao and coffee.
The majority of farmers are into smallholder agriculture of a subsistence nature, which is characterized by low productivity. More than half of the Liberians make their living through agriculture, but few of them see it as a business. The farming systems are primarily forest based and they cover the largest portion of cultivated land area, are concentrated in the central belt of the country, and account for almost half (50%) of the total land area and almost 90% of arable land. Small acreages of tree crops are maintained for generating cash income while rice, intercropped with vegetables and other food crops, occupy the major portion of cultivated land (about 87%), which is on upland.
Agriculture, including forestry, accounted for 31 percent of Liberia’s 2020 real gross domestic product (GDP). The food crops sub- sector dominates agriculture’s contribution to the national GDP. Rice is the main staple food grown by majority of the population on uplands. Notwithstanding favourable agro-ecological conditions, rice productivity is low. It is estimated that average yields of 736 kg/ hectare (ha) and 815 kg/ha are obtained from upland and lowland rain-fed production on an average farm size of 1.0 ha. Globally, average rice yields in recent years have been at 3,900 kg/ha for paddy rice, while in sub-Saharan Africa, yields have recently averaged 1,500 kg/ha—twice the yield of Liberia.
Cassava is the second most important food crop grown. Crop area averages 0.5 ha, and yields are estimated to be between 6 and 10 metric tons (MT)/ha on upland farms. Tree crops, especially rubber, cocoa and coffee make an important contribution to the economy.
Rubber is the most important cash crop and revenue from rubber export is increasing. It is estimated that more than half of the agricultural households may currently be directly or indirectly involved in tree crop production and in related down-stream activities; Nimba, Bong, and Lofa counties are the major producers. It is estimated that a little over 200,000 ha of rubber have been planted in Liberia, of which 65,000 are industrial estates and 130,000 are small and medium-size private farms. Liberia is an exporter of raw rubber (a relatively low value commodity), and has no secondary or tertiary rubber processing activities. While tire manufacturing in Liberia has been discussed for decades, rubber is not the primary ingredient in tires.
Cocoa is Liberia’s second most important export crop, with about 40,000 households engaged in its production. Most of the production is informally exported to international markets via neighbouring countries. Average yields of 400 kg/ha experienced in the 1980s have declined to between 100–200 kg/ha.
Oil Palm is native to Liberia and grows abundantly throughout the country. Half of Liberia’s palm oil is produced by some 30,000 persons who harvest the kernels from the forest where they grow naturally. The other half is produced by some 70,000 hectares of oil palm plantations which were established in Liberia in the 1970’s. In 2013 the production lay at 176,000 tons of palm fruit and 49,000 tons of crude palm oil. Liberia’s oil palm market was worth some $91.5 million in 2014, as the country ranks second in the region in the consumption of crude palm oil per person per year. The market for products manufactured from oil palm is also growing, opening up business opportunities in soap & cosmetics production, food processing, mulch, fertilizer, animal feed and biofuel production.
Farmers produce vegetables and some fruits (backyards and open spaces), which fetch good prices at the local markets. The main crops cultivated during the dry season in Monrovia, Tubmanburg, and Gbarnga are indigenous and exotic vegetables such as bitter, ball, okra, cabbage, sweet potatoes, corn, tomatoes, lettuce, water melon, cucumber, pepper, and
The livestock sub-sector plays a minimal role in the Liberian economy. Most of the animals are owned by traditional farmers who use local, less productive animal breeds and inappropriate techniques. Thus household-based chicken, goats, ducks, pigs, sheep and cattle rearing predominates . No dairy production is undertaken in Liberia for commercial purposes. Demand for livestock products greatly outstrips domestic supply; as a result the import of livestock products and live animals is high. Chickens are by far the most common type of livestock, with intensive production (fenced) at 75 percent and 25 percent free range.
Liberia’s 560-kilometer (km) coastline and the continental shelf, which averages 34 km in width and extends 200 nautical miles offshore. The country has enormous marine and fresh water fishery resources. There are about 20,000 km2 of marine fishing grounds, as well as over 1,800 km of rivers, and countless perennial swamps and inland water bodies with potential for inland fisheries and aquaculture. These areas hold considerable maritime fish resources, including the main oceanic pelagic species (e.g., tuna). Crustaceans (e.g., shrimps and lobsters) are less abundant but of much higher value than finfish species. Liberia’s fishery sub-sector consists of an established marine fishery involving industrial and artisanal fishing activities, exclusively artisanal inland fishery, and aquaculture practiced in rural areas through fishpond culture. However, this sector provides employment for about 37,000 fishers and processors and contributes significantly to nutrition in terms of protein intake, making it of importance locally. Over 80% of the population directly depends on fish for animal protein supply.
Aquaculture was developed in Liberia in the 1970s with technical support from donor projects. It has now reverted to a subsistence activity with production estimated at 38.81 MT in 2004. At its peak in the 1980s, 3,600 fishers nationwide used 450 ponds of various sizes with a total area of about 17.5 ha distributed in 159 communities round the country. However, most of the ponds have not been in use since the early 1990s.