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Commercial Crops

Rubber has been the dominant cash crop since the start of production in the 1930s by the Firestone Plantations Company. In the early 1980s rubber accounted by value for some 70 percent of all agricultural exports, and the industry employed almost 30 percent of all Liberian wage earners. In 1983 rubber was produced by five large foreign-owned concessions, one large Liberian concession under government control, and about 5,000 private Liberian commercial plantations and farms, which ranged in size from five acres to 1,000 acres. The foreign concessions, operating under individual agreements with the government', used generally capital intensive production methods and modern agricultural practices and inputs. They were run by highly trained, mainly expatriate managerial and technical staffs. They possessed well-developed infrastructures that benefitted not only employees of the concessions at all levels but also the areas adjacent to the concession. These concessions, however, were also characterized by generally high overhead costs that affected their operational profits, most markedly during periods of low world prices for rubber.

In 1984 rubber concessions in Liberia were dominated by American companies. The most important of these was the Firestone Plantations Company, which held concessions of 130,000 acres at Harbel, east of Monrovia, and another of 20,000 acres near Harper, in southern Liberia; together, Firestone had about 84,000 acres planted on these concessions. The Liberian Agricultural Company (LAC) was established in 1959 by Italian interests but was subsequently taken over by Uniroyal, Its concession consisted of 600,000 acres east of the port of Buchanan of which some 22, 000 acres were planted. Another American concern, the B. F. Goodrich Company, acquired a 600,000?acre concession north of Monrovia in 1954 and eventually planted about 18,000 acres in rubber trees, but Goodrich sold the operation in 1981. A fourth company, which included American shareholders, was the Liberia Company. Established in 1949, the company had a concession of 100,000 acres, of which about 6,200 acres had been planted.

Large concessions held by other than American interests included those held by the Salala Rubber Corporation, a joint Dutch-German venture begun in 1959, and by a privately owned Liberian firm, the African Fruit Company. The former had planted some 6,200 acres on a 100,000-acre holding. The tatter's concession, dating from 1952, consisted of 600,000 acres located near Greenville in Sinoe County, but less than 6,000 acres had been planted at the time of the 1980 coup. The African Fruit Company's concession was confiscated in 1981 by the military government, and there was little information available about subsequent operations there. In April 1984, when Doe announced the decision to return confiscated properties to their owners, he excluded agricultural land, explaining that such property had been contracted out "in the interest of government."

Operating on a much smaller scale, Liberian-owned commercial rubber farms first appeared in the early 1900s, when the rubber tree was introduced into the country from South America. The industry became important commercially at that level, however, only after the start of Firestone's large-scale operations and mainly as a result of the American company's encouragement of outgrower farm development through the provision of planting materials and technical assistance. Liberian participation in the industry was given a further stimulus by high prices for rubber after World War II. By 1950 some 460 privately owned rubber farms existed. A decade later the number had risen to almost 2,400 farms, and it reached 5,000 in the 1970s. Larger, more efficiently operated farms were the primary beneficiaries of the assistance furnished by Firestone and other companies, and by the 1970s their yields paralleled those of the concessions.

The numerous small rubber farmers, most of whom cultivated holdings of less than 10 acres, received little or no assistance from the concessions. Their stock was of generally poor quality, grown mostly from unselected seedlings, and management and production standards were low. Beginning in 1978 the government undertook a program aimed specifically at helping farmers having holdings of less than 150 acres. This has been carried out by the Liberian Rubber Development Unit (LRDU), established that year as a semiautonomous agency within the Ministry of Agriculture. The LRDU's principal aims have been to furnish extension services; provide financial assistance for replanting with improved seedlings; rehabilitate old trees that have tapping potentials; improve on?farm processing; and train workers in modern techniques. The project in 1984 covered Montserrado, Bong, Nimba, and Grand Bassa counties. The accomplishment of LRDU's replanting and rehabilitation targets was set originally at five years from 1979 but was subsequently altered to eight years. The delay in implementation has been attributed to the farmers' slow initial response to the program but appears in some degree to have been affected also by lower world rubber prices in the early 1980s.

Total rubber production in 1960 was 47,400 tons, of which the concessions accounted for 40,450 tons (about 85 percent) and Liberian farms for about 6,950 tons. In 1970 the total reached 85,650 tons; 70 percent (25,350 tons) was produced by Liberian commercial operations. Growth in output during the 1970s was relatively slow, and total production stood at about 90,000 tons in 1980 and 1981. In the latter year the concessions accounted for 73 percent and Liberian farms for 27 percent. In the early 1980s, declining producer returns acted as disincentives, to both the concession and the small farmers, to expand planted and tapped areas or to replant with higher yielding strains. At least one-fourth of all rubber trees were believed to be past the peak production period, and another one-fourth would reach that stage before the end of the decade. Eight years would be required for a newly planted tree to reach producing lower world rubber prices and age. However, substantial numbers of trees on Liberian farms were not tapped-over 60 percent on farms under 125 acres (in 1974) and about 20 percent on the concessions (in 1980). Coffee is native to Liberia. Consisting of a distinct species (libericicce), it soon became a cash crop for the early settlers who sold coffee to foreign trading vessels. By the 1840s more than 21,000 trees had been planted, mostly in Montserrado County. The coastal counties remained the principal scene of coffee cultivation until after World War II, when the robust variety was introduced, and widespread planting occurred in Nimba and Lofa counties. These two counties have since become the largest areas of coffee growing; in 1982 Nimba County accounted for about 31,500 acres and Lofa County for 36,700 acres out of a total area devoted to coffee, estimated that year at some 92,000 acres.

Coffee production was overwhelmingly in the hands of Liberian small holders, both commercial and traditional. Most of the commercial growers cultivated areas of coffee trees under 25 acres and the coffee holdings of the traditional cultivators aver aged less than two acres. A large part of the existing coffee trees were grown from run-of-the-mill seed, were mostly planted in the 1950s, and have produced low yields. In the mid?1970s the government established the parastatal Liberia Coffee and Cocoa Corporation (LCCC) to assist coffee growers. The program has in eluded the establishment of nurseries to provide improved seed lings. Under the program, proposed new planting were set at about 5, 500 acres for the period 1977-82. But less than 25 percent of the goal reportedly had been reached by the latter year.

The amount of coffee produced in Liberia was not definitely a known because undetermined quantities regularly entered the republic's trade channels from neighboring countries. In the early 1980s exports ranged from about 9,000 to 11,000 tons, and roughly 700 tons were consumed domestically. Liberia has been a member of the International Coffee Organization (ICO), which in the early 1980s set an export quota on Liberia's sales to member buyers of approximately 9,600 tons annually. Some coffee was also sold to nonmembers. Libya, a nonmember, had reached an agreement with Liberia to purchase some 2,200 tons annually from 1981 through 1985. But Liberia was unable to meet the goal in 1981 and 1982, providing during that two-year period a total of less than 2,800 tons.

The cacao tree, whose seeds are the source of cocoa, cocoa butter, and chocolate, is believed to have been first introduced in the early 1900s by Liberian Kru and Grebo laborers who had worked on plantations on the island of Fernando Po in the Gulf of Guinea. It was grown in the coastal area occupied by those ethnic groups in southeastern Liberia, but production remained relatively limited. After World War II a large foreign-owned plantation was started in northern Liberia, where ecological conditions were considered better. The area proved less than ideal, however, and the plantation eventually was converted to rubber. Subsequently, the production of cacao beans, like coffee, has been a smallholder activity. Existing trees were mostly planted in the 1950s through the use of unselected seeds. Yields have been generally low, and many trees by the late 1970s were past their peak production period. The LCCC nurseries were also producing hybrid cacao seedlings that were expected to improve future output materially.

In the early 1980s most cacao was produced in Bong, Lofa, Liberia: A Country Study and Nimba counties, which together accounted for about three , quarters of the 85,000 acres in Liberia devoted to this tree crop Few cacao products were used in the country, and the volume of cacao produced was related primarily to world market prices. In the late 1970s exports were under 5,000 tons annually, but government figures showed a rise to over 7,000 tons in 1981, apparently stimulated by world demand. The acreage in cacao trees was reported to have expanded from 63, 900 acres to 85,000 acres between 1977 and 1982. The expansion has been attributed mainly to the growth in number of agricultural smallholder households.

In contrast with rubber, coffee, and cacao production, a large part of the palm oil produced was obtained from wild trees. The oil palm grows throughout Liberia but is particularly abundant in the coastal savanna, where areas of oil palms have been estimated to average 30 trees per acre. Inland the trees grow in fallow areas, and groves are found around villages. Palm oil is a principal item in the Liberian diet, and a large number of agricultural households make their own oil from wild fruit. A number of private Liberian and joint Liberian-foreign commercial operations were engaged in growing oil palms in the early 1980s. In addition, several parastatals, including the LPMC, the LPPC, the Buto Oil Palm Corporation (BOPC), and the Decoris Oil Palm Corporation (DOPC), had ongoing programs to expand formal plantings of oil palms. The BOPC and DOPC operations, which in early 1984 appeared to be functioning satisfactorily, were based on plantations that were supplemented by production from the groves of smallholder contractors. As of 1983 the parastatals, principally BOPC and DOPC, had almost 15,000 acres in oil palms. The major private operations had close to 5,000 additional acres.

In the early 1980s production of palm oil was estimated at over 27,000 tons, of which roughly 22,000 tons were consumed domestically; the remainder was exported. Little palm kernel oil was used in Liberia, and exported production declined in the 1970s from about 4,500 tons in 1976 to 2,100 10115 111 1980. It was anticipated that exports of palm oil and palm kernel oil would increase during the 1980s as existing plantings under the parastatal projects reached bearing age and acreage increased.

Ecological conditions in Liberia's sandy coastal zone offer an important potential for the commercial cultivation of coconuts and the production of copra, an exportable item in world demand; eventually coconut oil would also be exportable. Individual households in the coastal zone regularly planted coconut trees, but in the early 1980s purely commercial operations consisted of only a few plantations and an LPPC project in the Greenville area of Sinoe County. The latter project included the provision of hybrid seedlings to small holders for some 20,000 acres; about 700 acres were reported to have been planted by 1981. Domestic consumption of coconuts was estimated at 6,500 to 7,000 tons in the early 1980s.

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