Recent resurgence of civil strife in Monrovia could further aggravate the already tight food supply situation and hamper emergency assistance and agricultural rehabilitation activities in Liberia. The present disturbances have caused a new wave of population displacement affecting hundreds of thousands of civilians. Severe food shortages and deaths from cholera, measles and malaria have already been reported from some areas. Most emergency and project operations, which were generally coordinated from Monrovia, have been halted. Roads towards the centre of the country have been closed by fighting and food assistance flows have stopped towards counties in the north. The planned return of refugees from neighbouring countries has been delayed, while the exodus of Liberians on boats in search of host countries has necessitated the installation of new refugee camps in neighbouring countries. Well coordinated contingency plans for relief distribution will be necessary to avoid possible further human suffering in the coming months.
Six years of civil strife has dealt a serious blow to all economic sectors, particularly agriculture. Extensive and continuous population displacement has left large tracts of agricultural land deserted. Insecurity in areas outside the ECOMOG (Economic Community of West African States Military Observer Group) controlled zone has made it difficult for farmers to store seed for planting, and most are depending on emergency seed distribution programmes. Rice production in 1995 was only about 20 percent of the pre-civil war level. Cassava production has also been severely hit, possibly falling by as much as 50 percent.
The planting of 1996 rice crop for harvest in October/November is underway in the relatively secure areas. Large areas of cultivable land have been depopulated, particularly in the counties of Bong, Grand Gedeh, Lofa and Nimba, which accounted for some 70 percent of national rice production before the civil war. Furthermore, both short and long term migration has resulted in a lack of continuity in rice production. As a consequence only rarely have farmers been able to retain seed stocks from one season to the next and have depended, for the most part, on seed distributed by NGOs, predominantly by CRS (Catholic Relief Services). For the current season, rice production is generally limited to those areas where relief agencies were able to distribute seed. Locally, the supply of hand tools has been a constraint. Some imported tools have been distributed.
Notwithstanding earlier expectations of larger rice plantings compared to last year, total production in 1996 is unlikely to recover from its poor level in 1995 due to the volatile security situation and shortages of farm inputs.
Reflecting the poor prospects for the 1996 harvest, an increasing number of displaced persons will continue to rely on food assistance throughout 1996 and possibly in 1997. Population in Monrovia will also be facing increasing food supply difficulties due to an extreme scarcity of local food commodities in the capital. The
situation is likely to worsen by a reduction of commercial food imports in the coming months, following the exodus of the expatriate trader community. Commercial imports of cereals in 1996 are expected to be well down from the anticipated volume of 40 000 tons. The 1996 food aid requirement, which was estimated at 179 000 tons of cereals (mostly bulgur wheat) by an FAO Crop and Food Supply Assessment Mission in December 1995, may need to be revised downwards, as the repatriation of the approximately 750 000 Liberian refugees residing in neighbouring countries is expected to be delayed. However, the relief needs for the internally displaced persons will increase significantly.
Rome, 24 May 1996