FAO Crop and Food Supply Assessment Mission to Liberia

An FAO Crop and Food Supply Assessment Mission visited Liberia from 28 November to 14 December 1996 to estimate 1996 food production, to assess the food supply situation for 1996 and 1997 and to estimate cereal import requirements for 1997.

During their two week visit, the Mission travelled by road to seven out of the thirteen counties in Liberia and flew to an additional two by helicopter. The team made a number of stops along the road to consult with farmers and their families, to get their views on crop output for 1996 and prospects for 1997. The Mission also consulted with the Minister of Agriculture and staff of the Ministry of Agriculture, officials from various UN agencies in Liberia, donor representatives, international Non-government Organizations (NGOs) and local NGOs.

Despite the extensive destruction of relevant documents in the attack on Monrovia that occurred in April 1996, Mission members were fortunate to have access to several papers which described and analyzed the agriculture setting in Liberia before the start of civil strife in 1990. In addition, members of the Ministry of Agriculture staff were made available to the team for consultation and assistance purposes during the stay in Liberia, helping to fill in some of the gaps left by the various missing documents and data.

Despite the hostilities, which continued in Liberia throughout 1996, the team estimated that the rice crop in the country was substantially larger in 1996 than it had been in 1995. This was due largely to the improved security situation in the two main rice producing areas of Liberia. This enabled various NGOs to distribute seed and tools to farmers. Rice production in Liberia in 1996 is estimated at about 95 000 tons (paddy weight) or roughly 30 percent of the pre-war production level. The estimated planted area amounts to 75 600 hectares and the average yield to 1 250 kg/hectare. Cassava production is estimated at 213 000 tons, about half of pre-war level.

The food supply situation has been particularly tight in 1996 in several areas not accessible to relief agencies. The team travelled to areas which had experienced serious famine in 1996, the most notable of which was the city of Tubmanburg in Bomi County, some 45 miles from the capital city of Monrovia. A military blockade of the city led to the deaths of some 4 000 citizens from starvation and disease.

While food aid received in 1996 was less than the level recommended by a similar Mission in late 1995, commercial rice imports were in line with projections and were substantially higher than the 1995 level (up to 35 000 tons from about 20 000 tons in 1995). For 1997, taking into account a rise in the population to 2 million persons due to a partial return of refugees to Liberia and using a per caput consumption level equal to the last five year’s average, the projected cereal deficit will reach 166 300 tons. With commercial imports projected at 50 000 tons, the cereal food aid requirement is estimated at 116 000 tons.

As the team left Liberia, there was a certain degree of optimism for an improvement in the overall security situation in 1997. A number of generally positive signs indicate that the peace process in Liberia is beginning to take hold. A militia demobilization campaign began on November 23 and national elections are planned for May 1997. Security in the country will be a precondition for the revitalization of the Liberian economy, which will include repatriation and resettlement of 768 000 Liberian refugees from abroad, resettlement of an equally large number of internally displaced persons as well as reconstruction of an economy ravaged by seven years of civil war. However, the current security situation remains very volatile and uncertain at this time, which impedes progress in both resettlement and economic growth.


2.1 Geography

Liberia is located in the high rainfall area of West Africa. It is surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean to the south west, Sierra Leone to the west, Guinea to the north and Côte d'Ivoire to the east.

Compared with other sub-Saharan African countries, Liberia is a relatively sparsely populated country. Even if refugees currently located outside the country are included, the Liberian population is only slightly over 2.5 million persons. By contrast, Malawi, a country of roughly the same geographical size as Liberia, has a population of over 11 million. With the high regional rainfall, rivers everywhere criss-cross the country. Dense vegetation, including virgin forest in some areas, abounds in the rural areas of the country.

2.2 Economy

Liberia has always been a significant trading country. Before civil war broke out in 1990, a significant portion of Gross National Product was generated by exports. Iron-ore, rubber and forestry products made up the bulk of exports. While some informal exports continue in the rubber and forestry areas, iron-ore production and exports have stopped completely. As a result, employment in these sectors of the Liberian economy has been dramatically reduced. Many people now make a living from petty trading, especially in the bustling capital city of Monrovia. While production of food crops, mainly rice and cassava, made up a significant proportion of the economic activity in pre-war Liberia, local production of cereals and other crops had to be supplemented by significant imports of cereals and other foodstuffs even at that time.

In 1990, civil war broke out in Liberia. The impact on people and the economy has been profound. Liberians became a people on the move. By 1996, over 750 000 people had become refugees outside the country. Estimates as high as another 700 000 have been given for persons internally displaced by the hostilities. Many people have moved to the capital city, Monrovia. Before the war, the population of Monrovia was about half a million. Now the population is closer to one million. The estimated population still within the country in mid-1996 was 1 761 000 (UNDP/UNOPS estimate), about 56 percent of the 1990 total. Half of all Liberians were in farming families and had it not been for the war there would have been some 1 500 000 people engaged in agriculture today, 90 percent of them in the traditional/subsistence sector. As many are now displaced or exiled, it is unlikely that more than 750 000 are still in the rural areas and not all able to farm as before on their original holdings.

2.3 Agriculture

Agriculture has been profoundly affected by the hostilities as well. The significant outmigration from rural areas as well as frequent hostilities occurring in farming sectors have significantly reduced production from pre-war levels. These are discussed in more detail below.

The total land area of Liberia is 9 775 000 hectares, mainly rain forest. The climate is tropical with an average rainfall of 2 372 mm per annum, which falls mainly between April and November. The high rainfall is reflected in the type of crops grown, mainly rice, tree crops, root crops and vegetables.

The cultivated area amounted to 538 000 hectares in 1986, before the war, of which 120 000 hectares was under commercial rubber in large estates and 90 percent of the remainder farmed mainly by smallholders operating at subsistence levels of production (376 000 hectares), with holdings of 1.5 hectares or so. There are no data for the area under cultivation in 1996 but the Mission estimated it is unlikely to be much more than 100 000 hectares.

Rice was grown by 90 percent of the smallholder sector, 80 percent of which was upland or rainfed and 20 percent swamp rice. Cassava is the second most important food crop and even more so since the disturbances started. Some 60 percent of upland rice is traditionally intercropped with cassava, with regional variations. In Bong, Nimba and Margibi counties, for example, it is estimated that 90 percent of the upland rice is intercropped with cassava, as well as with maize and okra, while in Lofa county the proportion of farms growing cassava is likely to be much less and intercropping with beans, peanuts, okra and pepper is more common. Swamp rice is not intercropped but may be ratooned, double/triple cropped or rotated with vegetables in the "dry" season. No month of the year is completely without some rain.

The use of manufactured fertilizers is and has always been virtually nil in the traditional sector and upland cropping relies on shifting cultivation to maintain fertility. Land is cropped for 1-3 years after clearing the forest and then left fallow for 7 years or so, to regain its fertility.

After cassava, sweet potatoes are the most important root crop, followed by eddoes and yams. Other vegetables and fruits include malugeta pepper, bitter ball, pineapples, melons and pumpkins. The leaves of sweet potatoes and cassava are popular greens, as are the leaves of water greens (Amaranthus spp.) and local greens such as "palava sauce", "chicken greens" and "careless greens". These have become particularly important since the war started, as a fast growing source of vitamin rich food for displaced people.

Tree crops of importance to farmers include oil palm, coffee, cocoa, plantains, bananas, citrus, mango, pawpaw and coconuts, often providing a cash income as well as food, where markets are accessible. Breadfruit and breadnut trees are also found, the former having become more acceptable since the war caused general food shortages. Sugarcane juice/wine is an important cash earner in some areas, as is charcoal making (often from rubber trees) and the sale of illegally tapped rubber from abandoned plantations.

Forest food products are of particular importance and include wild oil palm, kola nuts, raphia palm and wild varieties of root crops like eddoes and yams. The "cabbage" or growing point of the oil palm is an important famine food and similarly the growing points of the raphia and coconut palms and bamboo can also be eaten. Snails, insects, birds, fish and wild animals are also important sources of food protein, especially at this time.

The livestock sector was never a major feature of the agriculture of Liberia but cattle, goats, pigs and chickens were important to the traditional farmers and used to be found in most areas. Their numbers have been devastated by theft and slaughter during the hostilities.

The lack of any official collection or publication of agricultural data since the war began makes it very difficult to monitor the food production status in Liberia with any degree of accuracy. It would be very useful to have a food production survey and data collection project to provide the necessary information.

2.4 Challenges for the future

Despite continuing hostilities up to the present time, there are a number of positive signs that Liberians are coming to grips with the war which has ravaged their country and economy for more than six years. The ECOMOG [ ECOMOG is the acronym for the ECOWAS monitoring group. ECOWAS is the Economic Community of West African States .] international peace keeping force in Liberia continues to secure those parts of the country where most of the population is located, including Monrovia. A State Council has been established under the chairmanship of a civilian and is composed of three faction leaders and three civilians. A programme to demobilize the militia forces began on November 23, 1996 and is due to be completed by the end of January 1997. National elections in Liberia are planned for May 1997. Liberians have been frustrated by breakdowns in their peace initiatives on a number of previous occasions. This time, though, a number of people feel that things will be different this time, that hostilities will cease soon and that the massive task of redeploying the workforce and reconstructing the economy in Liberia can begin. However, the current security situation remains particularly volatile.


3.1 Foodcrop production estimates for 1996

No official data on crop production have been collected since the war started in 1990 and most of the previous records were lost with the destruction and looting of the Ministry of Agriculture (MOA) offices in the riots of April 1996. The Mission was however able to obtain a copy of one of the last MOA reports to be produced before the war "Production Estimates of Major Crops, 1988 - June 1989".

In view of the lack of data, figures given here and in the following chapters for production and yields have had to be estimated from observation and local experience and must be regarded as indicative. In the case of the counties which were not accessible by road because of the war - Grand Gedeh, Grand Kru, Maryland and Sinoe, even local knowledge is virtually nil and the estimates are even more tentative.

MOA officials and the personnel of NGOs and international agencies, with experience of the situation in 1996, were consulted for estimates of production and the Mission also visited 9 of the 13 counties. These included field trips by road through the counties of Bomi, Montserrado, Margibi, Bong, Nimba and Grand Bassa and Grand Cape Mount, as well as helicopter reconnaissance over the north part of River Cess and Grand Gedeh counties. Road travel to Lofa county would have been possible had more time been available but the security situation made road travel to Sinoe, Grand Kru and Maryland counties impossible. The 1996 crop production situation in Lofa has however been well documented in NGO reports, which were made available to the Mission.

During the road trips it was possible to interview farmers and observe crops in the field, although most of the upland rice had been harvested by the time of the visit. Visits were also made to international and local NGOs involved in the distribution of rice seed and tools which had been provided by the international humanitarian aid agencies and this also provided some guide to the areas of rice planted. These agencies distributed a total of 2 662 tons of seed to farmers, which represents some 28 300 hectares planted, on the basis of 50 percent not planted (eaten, sold or stolen) and an average seed rate of 47 kg/hectare.

The principal factor affecting the level of food crop production in 1996 was depopulation of rural areas as the people who had fled from the conflict failed to return. Applying a percentage ratio on pre-war production level for each county, the Mission estimated that the production of rice in 1996 was 94 450 tons, which represents 32 percent of pre-war production (1988). Table 1 summarizes the estimates of rice production for 1996 by counties.

Table 1: Estimated production of rice in 1996 (tons)

Planted Area
% of Pre-
War Figure
Grand Bassa
17 479
18 413
4 600
6 880
9 406
40 631
56 413
28 210
Grand Cape Mount
9 749
14 422
Grand Gedeh
22 663
30 984
1 550
Grand Kru
6 690
9 220
38 733
46 009
11 500
9 591
13 329
6 888
8 721
2 620
4 100
5 905
7 640
57 972
67 565
33 780
River Cess
4 411
4 943
9 875
14 054
2 810
235 662
298 574
94 450

Sources: MOA "Production Estimates of Major

Mission estimates of 1996 production.

The reason for the increased 1996 estimates compared to 1995 94 500 tons against 56 200 tons is mainly the greatly improved stability in the counties of Bong and Nimba, which, together with North Lofa, produced 70 percent of all the rice in Liberia before the war. During 1996, Bong and Nimba counties were firmly under the control of one faction, the NPFL, and not subject to the disturbances of conflict, enabling a high level of activity by farmers and also by NGOs in the distribution of rice seed and farming tools.

Production of cassava, the second most important staple food was estimated at 213 260 tons, 52 percent of pre-war production. A higher ratio of cassava to rice is being grown than pre-war and there is also cassava surviving on abandoned farms, undoubtedly being used by fighters and others. Table 2 summarizes the estimates of cassava production for 1996 by counties.

Table 2: Estimated production of cassava in 1996 (tons)

% of Pre-
War Figure
Grand Bassa
4 767
36 871
14 750
2 161
13 787
1 380
5 427
33 469
25 100
Grand Cape Mount
3 497
33 288
9 980
Grand Gedeh
4 844
43 447
4 350
Grand Kru
2 258
20 998
2 100
4 180
29 070
7 290
2 995
20 136
2 010
3 185
21 406
16 060
2 772
22 358
44 770
12 327
106 349
79 760
River Cess
1 283
7 891
1 570
2 440
20 771
4 150
52 136
409 841
213 270

Sources: MOA "Production Estimates of Major Crops, 1988-June 1989".

Mission estimates of 1996 production.

Plantains and bananas were recorded pre-war by the number of households growing them, estimated at 91 600 in 1988. Even with abandoned farms, production may not have changed much and the plantains and bananas should have survived and been harvested by someone. Production of 100 kg or more per homestead, for the year would not be unrealistic, suggesting that they could have contributed some 10 000 tons to the food supply in 1996.

It was not possible to estimate production of sweet potatoes or eddoes with any degree of certainty since not even pre-war data exists, but they are important elements of the local food supply, available in all markets and are probably at least 50 000 tons per year to the food supply.

3.2 Planted area

In the absence of any official data, the estimate of rice area planted in 1996 is 75 600 hectares, based on a production of 94 450 tons divided by the average yield of 1 250 kg/hectare, as discussed below in the chapter on yields. The average cassava yield for 1996 is estimated at 6 500 kg/hectare and a production of 213 270 tons suggests a planted area of 32 810 hectares (pure stand equivalent - much of the cassava being intercropped with upland rice).

In addition to the effect of depopulation, the number of factors affecting the areas of crops planted were many, including lack of labour for bush clearing and poor physical condition of the people due to inadequate food, as well as reduction of farm size to minimize risk of loss by theft or wanton destruction by faction fighters. It is reported that cassava from abandoned farms in Cape Grand Mount and Bomi counties was being harvested by fighters and sold in Monrovia markets and in fact the mission observed this on a trip to Grand Cape Mount. Rice seedlings were also said to have been dug up for sale by fighters.

Rice crop areas were restricted due to lack of inputs, particularly seeds and tools for bush clearing. The international donors/NGOs programme for supply of seeds and tools was severely disrupted in April 1996 when 600 tons of seed rice and U.S.$ 700 000 worth of tools were looted from warehouses in Monrovia. In spite of this, UN organizations and NGOs managed to distribute nearly 2 700 tons of rice seed and some 90 000 assorted hand tools. Although some seed was late in being delivered, there were farmers who used their own rice as seed in anticipation of the distribution which they then used for food, with the net result that their fields did get planted. Farmers who receive seed have to "pay-back" an equivalent amount from their own harvest and tools are sold at subsidized prices. The CRS (Catholic Relief Service) system of acquiring rice seed for distribution by giving milled rice for paddy on a weight for weight basis might also have encouraged some farmers in Bong and Nimba counties to grow a larger area and produce a surplus for exchange.. The increased population of Monrovia has resulted in the development of mangrove swamps for rice production with many of the IDPs (Internally Displaced Persons) being skilled farmers.

Cassava areas were restricted by a shortage of planting material (cuttings) but overall the high price of rice has encouraged the planting of cassava which has become a more important part of the staple diet than pre-war. The popularity of farina (gari), dumboy and other cassava foods has increased considerably. The necessity of planting used land of low fertility has also encouraged cassava planting at the expense of crops which need better conditions, such as sweet potatoes and eddoes. More cassava is also being produced in Montserrado county, in the vicinity of Monrovia, because of the increased population and its attraction as a quick supply of edible green leaves.

3.3 Yields

The pre-war MOA report gives an average yield of 1 250 kg/hectare for upland and swamp rice combined. There was some suggestion that the improved varieties distributed by the NGOs were giving higher yields than pre-war and yield measurements by CRS in Bong and Nimba range from 350 to 1 750 kg/hectare. The amount of seed rice distributed would therefore have accounted for some 28 000 hectares out of the estimated total of 75 600 hectares but constraints due to the war have undoubtedly had negative effects on yield. In particular a shortage of labour for bush clearing, as a result of the exodus, forcing farmers to crop low fertility, used land, which should have been rested or fallowed. On balance therefore, it is probable that the average rice yield has not changed significantly from the pre-war figure.

Factors affecting rice yields include varieties grown. The use of traditional unimproved varieties may not be entirely inappropriate in view of the absence of fertilizer and pest/disease control chemicals. Locally adapted varieties often do better than high performance varieties under adverse conditions. The CRS recognizes this and is encouraging local NGOs to establish seed "banks" to collect and preserve popular varieties. Popular varieties in the 1996 season also included some imported ones such as the upland varieties IDESA 6 & 10 (from Côte d’Ivoire), LAC 23 - red & white grain (from Guinea although originally Liberian), IRAT 170 (Côte d’Ivoire), as well as the swamp variety Rok 3. Improved varieties can be expected to yield 2-3 times better under conditions of adequate fertilization and management, a situation virtually unknown in Liberia at present.

Yields are also affected by inadequate weed control and crop protection from birds and animals. The exodus of people from the rural areas and the need for some to stay hidden in the bush during daylight hours are contributing factors in this respect.

MOA estimates of cassava yields pre-war equate to an average yield of 7 500 kg/hectare (pure stand basis). One effect of the war has been the pre-mature harvesting of cassava while the roots are still small, in an effort to thwart theft by faction fighters in areas of insecurity and this must surely have resulted in a reduction in yield. The shortage of cassava cuttings results in the use of very small thin cuttings which also do not give the best results. An average yield for 1996 of 6 500 kg/hectare has been assumed on the basis of yields in poor security areas having been reduced from pre-war levels. The effect of pre-mature harvesting undoubtedly applies also to other root crops, with adverse effects on yield.

The weather in 1996 was not a constraint on production, according to local information and this is borne out by the satellite images showing "cold cloud cover", an indication of rainfall, as being normal in the main production areas throughout the year. It was above normal during April and July in the north-west coastal areas and slightly sub-normal during September and October in the south-east, which is largely uncultivated forest.

3.4 Foodcrop production prospects for 1997

The uncertainty about the future makes it virtually impossible to predict crop production in 1997. There is relative peace in some parts of the country, particularly in the main rice producing areas of Bong, Nimba and north Lofa, which is likely to hold and could encourage the return of refugees/IDPs with a resultant increase in cultivated area. The counties of Bomi, Grand Cape Mount and south Lofa, are still unsettled and it is unlikely that production will increase in the near future because of the incentive for conflict provided by the diamond areas. The areas under ECOMOG control - Montserrado/Monrovia, Margibi and part of Grand Bassa - are home to most of the country’s IDPs and improvement elsewhere could trigger population movement out of them. The southern coastal counties of River Cess, Sinoe, Grand Kru and Maryland are likely to remain relatively inaccessible until conditions elsewhere improve, especially in Grand Gedeh which provides road access to the south.

The security situation could move either way in 1997 but at best it is not expected that crop production will be much more than it was in 1996. Even if there was a substantial influx of refugees, it is unlikely that it would happen in time to make an impact on the rice planting, which starts in April/May in spite of the relative popularity of cassava, the high rate of theft, which is discouraging planting to some extent, and the pre-mature harvesting are worrying factors which could lead to a shortage of food during the lean season after the 1996 rice production is consumed and before the new harvest (April-October approximately). The humanitarian rice seed distribution programme had not been finalized at the time of the mission but is expected to be larger than 1996.


4.1 Bomi

The UNDP/United Nations Operations Services (UNOPS) update for the population undertaken in June 1996 (see paragraph 5.2) indicates that Bomi county population amounts to 35 000. Many of the people who have left are in Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps in Monrovia and there is no movement back at present.

Rice production in 1996 is tentatively put at 2 percent of the pre-war level (a nominal 190 tons). The area was not accessible to NGOs until October and no seed distribution had been possible. Farming was disrupted by fighting, with many families forced to hide deep in the bush but some rice was undoubtedly planted, although it may not have been harvested by the owners. All the roadside villages had been abandoned and the Mission did not observe any signs of rice growing or being dried on the roadside. Cassava is important here as it is in all the coastal counties, because of the lighter soils but the displacement of people has been so bad that 1996 production is put only at 10 percent of pre-war (1 380 tons).

Factional skirmishes continue, encouraged by the mineral wealth of the area, particularly diamonds. The county capital of Tubmanburg has been the scene of some of the worst malnutrition seen anywhere in Liberia because the population was blockaded in the town for months (see paragraph 6.3).

4.2 Bong

The mid-1996 UNDP/UNOPS update of the population of Bong county was estimated at 130 000. Substantial numbers of refugees and IDPs are reported as having returned during the year, starting in late 1995, although that may have been slowed following the April 1996 disturbances in Monrovia.

Rice production is thought to be about 50 percent of pre-war (28 210 tons), based on estimates by the CRS and the distribution of 1 035 tons of seed to 46 847 farmers (potential 13 700 tons at least). This has been possible with the area being relatively peaceful and accessible to the NGOs. Cassava is traditionally intercropped with upland rice but the ratio of cassava to rice has increased since the start of the war, as a result of constraints on rice production. The 1996 production level for cassava in Bong county has been estimated at 75 percent of pre-war (25 100 tons).

Security is relatively good in Bong county, since the NPFL control the whole county and there is no territorial fighting, although the looting of 245 tons of WFP aid food from the LWS store at Phebe hospital near the county capital of Gbarnga in October 1996 was a blow to the humanitarian effort. The Mission found all roadside villages between Kakata and Gbarnga occupied, with most of them growing rice and no signs of fear among the villagers, although one checkpoint with unarmed fighters was seen stopping private vehicles to "tax" their cargoes. NGOs have however reported quite severe malnutrition in the county but have been able to operate feeding centres and distribute food aid to displaced persons.

4.3 Grand Bassa

In June 1996, the population of Grand Bassa county was estimated to be 120 000 of which perhaps half are internally displaced.

Rice production is thought to be some 25 percent of pre-war (4 600 tons). CRS distributed 151 tons of seed to 3 687 farmers, enough for a theoretical production of 2 000 tons, the balance reported to be coming from farmers’ own seed. The light coastal soils favour coconuts and cassava and again the ratio of cassava to rice has increased putting estimates of 1996 production at 40 percent of pre-war (14 750 tons).

Only District 1, mainly land between the coast road and the ocean as well as in the immediate vicinity of Buchanan is not affected by civil strife at present. Refugees are starting to come back and along the Monrovia - Buchanan road the Mission noted several families putting up new huts alongside formerly abandoned and ruined houses.

4.4 Grand Cape Mount

The population is estimated to be 15 000 of which 1 500 -2 000 are at present in the border town of Bo Waterside. Most of the Sierra Leone refugees left in May 1996

Rice production in 1996 is put at 5 percent of pre-war level (720 tons). The area was not accessible to NGOs until October 1996 and no seed distribution had been possible. The Mission saw rice being dried on the roadsides but it is still not safe to move away from the main roads so production figures are tentative. Farmers complained that the fighters were taking their crops. Substantial areas of swamp rice, cassava and peanuts have been reported around Robertsport and the Mission also saw quite a lot of cassava chips being dried on the roadsides. 1996 cassava production is put at 30 percent of pre-war (9 980 tons).

The road from Monrovia through Cape Mount to Bo Waterside on the Sierra Leone border is relatively safe for UN and ECOMOG vehicles but others are likely to be robbed by fighters of several factions who each control part of the territory. The fighters themselves are carting cassava, oranges etc., to Monrovia for sale. In early December 1996, ECOMOG started the voluntary disarming of fighters in the border town of Bo Waterside and about 3 000 RUF rebels from Sierra Leone, with their families are reported to have crossed into Liberia and handed their weapons to ECOMOG, also in early December. Although the county is obviously far from stable, some NGOs have been able to start up feeding centres and provide medical care, in spite of some unpleasant harassment.

4.5 Grand Gedeh

The population is estimated at 10 000, with 1 500 in the county capital Zwedru.

Rice production is believed to be no more than 5 percent of pre-war (1 550 tons) and this is tentative because access has not been possible and no seed distribution was done by NGOs. Very little sign of cultivation was observed by the Mission from the helicopter survey. Cassava production was important before the war but in view of the depopulation, it has been tentatively estimated at 10 percent of pre-war level (4 450 tons).

ECOMOG have a base in Zwedru which they supply by helicopter but road travel through the county has not been possible since the April 1996 disturbances. There was some return of refugees before April but this has been reversed.

4.6 Grand Kru

Population estimate is 10 000 and rice production is tentatively put at 5 percent of pre-war (460 tons). The area is not accessible for security reasons and no seed distribution was possible by NGOs. Cassava production in 1996 is estimated at 10 percent of pre-war levels (2 100 tons)

4.7 Lofa

Lofa county is the largest in Liberia but mainly forested. The most important cropping area is in the north east, for rice production. The population is estimated to be 126 000. There has been a steady influx of returning refugees from Guinea, particularly into Foya district.

A joint NGO assessment mission reported good rice production this year, particularly in the districts of Vahun, Kolahun and Foya which have been relatively stable. Rice production in 1966 is thought to be 25 percent of pre-war (11 500 tons), although no seed distribution was undertaken in the area, the farmers being self sufficient in that respect. Cassava is not such a favoured food in Lofa county and 1996 production is also estimated at 25 percent of pre-war (7 290 tons).

South Lofa is a very disturbed area with several factions fighting for control of the diamond mining. It was not, however, a major food producing area even before the war.

4.8 Maryland

The population of Maryland is estimated to be 15 000 and 1996 rice production is tentatively estimated at 2 percent of pre-war level (a nominal 270 tons). No rice seed distribution was possible, thus cassava production for the year may have had added emphasis as a result and is put at 10 percent of pre-war level (2 010 tons).

4.9 Margibi

The population is estimated at 100 000. Upper Margibi was largely depopulated following closure of the rubber plantations but there has been an influx of displaced persons due to the relatively good security.

Rice production is believed to be about 30 percent of pre-war (2 620 tons). Absence of strife and good accessibility meant that NGO activity was possible and 25 000 kg of seed was delivered to 1 000 farmers. Many farmers were also able to retain seed from their own 1995 crop. Cassava production has been substantial and believed to have reached 75 percent (16 060 tons).

4.10 Montserrado

The population is estimated at about 1 million persons, most of whom are in Monrovia and some 500 000 of these are IDPs from other parts of Liberia. There are perhaps 30 000 people in rural Montserrado.

It is estimated that rice production in 1996 amounted to at least 150 percent of pre-war (7 640 tons). The huge influx of displaced persons from the rural areas to Monrovia has led to an increase in the area of rice grown, including the use of mangrove swamps for the first time. NGO activity has also been high with 65 000 kg of seed distributed to 2 602 farmers, enough for 900 tons of paddy. Cassava growing has also been intensified since the war and production in 1996 is estimated to have been 200 percent of pre-war (44 770 tons). The main concern is the high rate of theft and this is tending to discourage larger commercial plantings.

The disturbances of April 1996 in Monrovia caused some 3 000 deaths and many civilians and nearly all the international staff of humanitarian organizations left the country. The UN lost some U.S.$ 18 million worth of vehicles and equipment and the NGOs lost 600 tons of rice seed and U.S.$ 700 000 worth of small farming tools. The city is gradually getting back to normal but there is a curfew in force from 10.00 to 06.00 hours.

4.11 Nimba

Population of Nimba county is thought to be around 150 000 and refugees had started returning before the April 1996 problems.

Nimba is one of the main rice producing counties, particularly the western part, with cassava being mainly grown in the south. On the basis of estimates by the NGOs, rice production in 1996 is about 50 percent of pre-war (33 780 tons). This is based on CRC estimates, 1 218 tons of seed have been distributed to 52 681 farmers by NGOs (enough for approximately 17 000 tons). This county remained peaceful and settled under one faction and not disputed. Cassava production in 1996 is put at 75 percent of pre-war (79 760 tons).

The Mission travelled through Nimba without encountering any armed fighters and the people seemed relaxed and getting on with life as normal. Many small trucks were seen carrying plantains to market, a major crop in the area of Ganta. There were pigs and chickens running around the villages, indicating that there was no fear of theft by fighters. NGOs which had participated in seed aid distribution were busy collecting the "pay-back" replacement seed from farmers.

4.12 River Cess

The population of River Cess county is estimated at 15 000 and rice production in 1996 is put at 2 percent of pre-war (a nominal 90 tons) but this is tentative because there has been no access to the area to check and no seed distribution was possible, because of poor roads rather than security concerns. The area is being exploited by logging which provides an income for the faction controlling the areas, and it is in their interest to keep the security situation under control. In view of the relative security and the suitability of the coastal soils for cassava, production in 1996 has been assumed to be 20 percent of pre-war (1 570 tons).

4.13 Sinoe

The population in 1996 is estimated at 35 000 and rice production is thought to have been about 20 percent of pre-war (2811 tons), mainly on the basis that Oxfam managed to distribute 170 000 kg of seed before the April 1996 disturbances, which made access unsafe thereafter. This seed was in theory enough to produce 2-3000 tons of paddy but it not known how much actually got planted, since the unrest in Monrovia started problems all over, in the main planting season. The county capital Greenville is under ECOMOG control, serviced by helicopter, since the only road access through Grand Gedeh county has been closed since April 1996. Cassava is important here as well and 1996 production has also been estimated at 20 percent of pre-war (4 150 tons).


5.1 1996 Cereal Balance Sheet

At mid-year 1996, an estimate of the population of Liberia was taken by the United Nations Operations Service (UNOPS). The data in Table 3 below clearly show not only the decline in in-country population from the pre-war census taken in 1984 but also the tremendous shift in population from the rural areas to Monrovia (in Montserrado County). The UNOPS estimate of the population in June 1996 was 1 761 000. This figure includes internally displaced Liberians but does not include any Liberian refugees abroad.

Table 3: Population Estimate of Liberia by county 1984 and June 1996

June 1996
66 420
35 000
255 813
130 000
Grand Bassa
159 648
120 000
Grand Cape Mount
79 322
15 000
Grand Gedeh
102 810
10 000
Grand Kru
62 791
10 000
247 641
126 000
152 792
100 000
68 267
15 000
491 078
1 000 000
313 050
150 000
River Cess
37 849
15 000
64 147
35 000
2 101 628
1 761 000*

Source: UNOPS

* excludes refugees outside the country estimated at 768 000

Total stocks of cereals carried into the marketing year beginning January 1996 were estimated to be 36 000 tons. Closing stocks are estimated at 18 000 tons.

By late November 1996, actual food aid arrival and pipeline figures through the end of December 1996 were available to the Mission as well as an estimate for commercial imports of cereals for the whole year. Commercial imports of rice as of late October amounted to 26 800 tons. With 8 600 tons scheduled to arrive in November and December, this gives a total of 35 400 tons as commercial imports in 1996. WFP food aid delivered to Liberia in 1996 amounted to 51 900 tons, consisting of 24 800 tons of bulgur wheat and 27 100 tons of maize meal, according to food ship arrivals at Monrovia and Buchanan harbours. Food aid delivered by the CRS in 1996 amounted to 16 700 tons (15 600 tons in Monrovia and 1 400 tons in Buchanan). After conversion of the maize meal to grain equivalent, this gives a total of 89 900 tons of food aid and 125 400 tons of total imports for 1996.

Table 4: Imports of cereals and food aid 1996 (January- December) (tons)

Bulgur Wheat
Maize Meal
Maize meal in grain equivalent
Total in grain equivalent
Commercial imports
35 411*
35 411
Total food aid
89 952
- World Food Programme (WFP)
24 842
27 089
48 381
73 223
- Catholic Relief Services (CRS)
16 729**
16 729
Total Cereal Imports
35 411
41 571
27 089
48 381
125 363
  • includes pipeline of Nov. and Dec.

** at Monrovia and Buchanan

Source: World Food Programme and Commercial Importers

Using these figures, the 1996 cereal balance sheet can be updated as shown in Table 5. It shows that per caput consumption in 1996 was close to 100 kg/person/year.

Table 5: Cereal Balance Sheet, 1996 (January/December) (thousand tons)

Domestic Availability
1995 Production
Opening stocks
Total Utilization
Food use
Feed use
Other uses and losses
Closing stocks
Per caput consumption (kg/person/year)

5.2 1997 Cereal Balance Sheet

The Mission prepared the cereal balance sheet for 1997 based on the following assumptions:

- The population is projected to increase to 2 million persons, on the assumption that some refugees living outside the country return to Liberia during the course of the year. Additional international food assistance will therefore be required until the refugees are resettled into productive employment including agriculture.

- Rice production, estimated at 94 450 tons in paddy weight (see paragraph III), is converted to milled rice weight using a conversion factor of 0.60. This figure is lower than the conventional one of 0.66. It is based on advice from local experts and to a considerable extent reflects the fact that most of the local rice in Liberia is currently milled outside a processing plant with inevitable additional milling losses.

- Quantities to be retained for seeds and losses have been estimated at 20 percent of production (15 percent for losses, 5 percent for seeds).

- The per caput cereal consumption used is corresponding to the average of the last five years, i.e. 106 kg/person/year. This is also the same figure as that used by the FAO/GIEWS Mission to Liberia in December 1995 to prepare the provisional 1996 cereal balance sheet but higher than the estimated consumption in 1996.

- The level of commercial cereal imports has been increased to 50 000 tons, compared to 35 000 tons in 1996, on the assumption that trade is likely to grow following the return of peace and security in the country.

- No stock change has been considered.

With these assumptions, the food aid requirement for 1997 amounts to about 116 000 tons of cereals.

Table 6: Cereal Balance Sheet, 1997 (January/December) (thousand tons)

Domestic Availability
Opening stocks
Total Utilization
Food use
Feed use
Other uses and losses
Closing stocks
Import requirement
Commercial imports
Food aid requirements

For Liberia, however, it is important to emphasize that cereal consumption alone provides an incomplete picture of total food consumption. While it is difficult to calculate overall per caput food consumption with any degree of accuracy, it is possible to provide a more accurate picture of total food consumption by adding the cereal equivalent of cassava, an important root crop, to the estimate of cereal consumption alone.

For 1996, for example, the per caput cereal equivalent of cassava consumed in Liberia can be estimated at 40.4 kilograms per person per year (or about 45 percent of the food consumed in cereal form). Adding this to the per caput cereal consumption level raises the consumption estimate of the two food sources combined to 140 kilograms per person per year based on the 1996 consumption pattern. This figure ignores other food items consumed such as other root crops and plantains.


The cereal balance sheet approach provides information about average food consumption, but nothing about the actual distribution of food among different socio-economic groups of the population. In particular, among disadvantaged persons, especially children, pregnant and lactating women. These vulnerable groups are a particular concern in Liberia owing to the large number of individuals who have been displaced internally by the civil war. Estimates of the total number of displaced persons range as high as 700 000 people.

6.1 Displaced Shelter Programme and Emergency Feeding

Two organizations in Liberia have coordinated for 1996 a food distribution programme to help disadvantaged persons in the country: the World Food Programme (WFP) and the Catholic Relief Service (CRS). WFP supported a displaced shelter programme in six of the thirteen counties of Liberia. The counties containing these shelters are Montserrado (where Monrovia is located), Margibi, Grand Bassa, Cape Mount, Bong and Bomi. Data from WFP show that in November 1996, 305 000 persons were benefitting from the free distribution of food under the Displaced Shelter Programme. Between January and the end of October 1996, approximately 33 000 tons of food was distributed by WFP, including some 21 000 tons in the displaced person shelters. The distribution of food by feeding category appears below (Table 7).

Table 7: Distribution of Food by Feeding Category World Food Programme (tons) Jan. to Nov. 1996

General Distribution
Vulnerable Group Feeding
1 104
Internally Displaced Person Shelters
21 255
Emergency School Feeding
2 029
Food For Work
2 228
5 547
33 070

Source: World Food Programme

Up to November 1996 Catholic Relief Service (CRS) distributed food to about 331 000 beneficiaries, most of whom in the framework of its emergency expanded distribution, and also for vulnerable group feeding and internally displaced shelters programmes.

The data from WFP and CRS show the extensive coverage of feeding programmes to help disadvantaged people in Liberia in 1996. Despite this, inevitably some people in need may not be reached given the considerable difficulty of complete coverage in a war-torn country. For example the shelter programme did not cover seven of the thirteen counties in Liberia.

6.2 Coping Strategies

To a considerable extent, disadvantaged persons in Liberia are presumed to have survived in 1996 as they had done during other periods of the war by their own coping strategies. Many of those people who had lost both assets and all means of support in the war are presumed to have moved into the bush, at least for short periods of time (during hostilities for example), and to have survived by eating wild vegetation, in particular certain leaves, wild eddoes and in extreme cases the 'cabbage' of oil palm trees. Such a survival strategy is feasible in the remote, sparsely populated areas of Liberia at least on a short term basis.

6.3 Malnutrition in 1996

Despite the emergency feeding programmes of WFP and CRS combined with Liberians' own coping strategies, malnutrition did occur in a number of cases. Nutrition surveys taken in the shelter camps of Buchanan and Monrovia in June and July 1996 pointed to acute malnutrition in the camps at rates of about 45 percent and 25 percent respectively. The survey results in Buchanan in particular triggered the emergency general food distribution programme of the CRS. Apparently some people had moved involuntarily into the camps at that time with adverse consequences for their own nutritional status.

But the most serious, detected cases of war-related malnutrition in Liberia in 1996 occurred in and around the inland city of Tubmanburg in Bomi County. Relief agencies were allowed into the area in September after extensive fighting in and around the city. Not only were there very high levels of severe malnutrition in the population there but some 4 000 people in the town out of a population of 26 000 had died before help was allowed into the town. The deaths included those of some 2 000 children. The problem in Tubmanburg apparently got out of hand because large numbers of persons in the town were either prevented from foraging outside the city on their own or had most if not all of their foragings taken from them by militiamen in the area. Given their weakened state at the beginning of the conflict, many of the vulnerable people in particular saw a rapid decline in their nutritional condition which led in many cases to death. Fortunately many of the vulnerable individuals made rapid recoveries, once relief was allowed into the city. Assessment mission team members visited a feeding centre near Tubmanburg in November and witnessed remarkable recovery rates among the children in particular from their considerable ordeal just two and a half months before the mission arrived.

It is difficult to draw firm conclusions about the state of malnutrition in Liberia in 1996 given the war situation prevailing in the country throughout the year and the inevitable lack of comprehensive data on the population as a result. In general, though, it seems the main cause of malnutrition was not so much a lack of the total availability of food, as a lack of access of parts of that population to the food supplies on hand. Hostilities sometimes prevented relief agencies from reaching vulnerable groups with assistance. These factors produced malnutrition in vulnerable sectors of the population, especially when individual family units own self help, coping strategies were frustrated.

6.4 Nutrition prospects for 1997

The nutrition status of vulnerable groups in Liberia in 1997 will to a large extent depend upon the degree of security prevailing in the country next year. A number of extreme cases of malnutrition in 1996 resulted from the confinement of some of the population by the militia as a direct result of hostilities prevailing at the time in their area.

If the peace process moves significantly forward in 1997, the nutrition status of vulnerable groups should improve accordingly. Relief agencies should be given greater flexibility in their own assistance efforts as a result. CRS has indicated in its plans for 1997 that it will be shifting resources away from general distribution towards vulnerable group feeding and food for work.

A key factor affecting nutrition status in 1997 will be the extent to which refugees return to Liberia from abroad and the speed with which they can be reabsorbed into productive employment. Initially many will require financial assistance in their resettlement effort.

In this connection, it is important to point out that plans have to a considerable extent been developed to help refugees readjust to productive lives once they decide to return to their own country. UN organizations including UNHCR have prepared these plans that initially require security in rural areas as a precondition for successful reintegration of refugees in their communities. Effective disarmament of the militia as well as an even greater deployment of the international peace keeping force along the borders with neighbouring countries are examples of activities which will help to create an environment conducive to the return of significant numbers of refugees to Liberia. But once security is established, plans exist to help both refugees, internally displaced persons and demobilized fighters settle in rural communities across Liberia. This recognizes and seeks to reestablish the strong rural heritage of many Liberians before the civil war. Key to these reintegration plans is the establishment of 12 area development centres which will be equipped to provide various services to the rural community including seed and tools as well as extension as required for refugee farmers returning to their heritage areas.

Naturally, in this readjustment period, food aid will be an important part of the general support to Liberians in 1997. WFP and CRS have projected their food aid distributions for 1997 accordingly for a total of more than 1 million persons. A total of 109 900 tons of food (of which about 98 000 tons of cereals) is scheduled to be distributed to this targetted population.

Table 9: Food Aid Beneficiary and Tonnage Targets, 1997

Beneficiaries Targetted
Tonnage Targetted (only cereals) (tons)
World Food Programme
800 000
62 000
Catholic Relief Service
274 000
36 200
1 074 000
98 200

Source: World Food Programme

This report is prepared on the responsibility of the FAO Secretariat with information from official and unofficial sources and is for official use only. Since conditions may change rapidly, please contact Mr. Abdur Rashid, Chief, ESCG, FAO, (Telex 610181 FAO I; Fax: 0039-6-5225-4495, E-Mail (INTERNET): GIEWS1@FAO.ORG) for further information if required.

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