SPECIAL REPORT - FAO/GIEWS CROP ASSESSMENT MISSION TO LIBERIA -
16 January 1996

OVERVIEW

An FAO Crop Assessment Mission visited Liberia from 26 November to 22 December 1995. Its purpose was to estimate 1995 food production and evaluate prospects for the food situation in 1996. The team visited eleven of the thirteen counties, using a helicopter to survey those areas which were not accessible by road and worked closely with both local and international NGOs.

Even on the most optimistic reckoning, rice production in 1995 was only 23 percent of the pre-civil war level. Cassava production has also been hit, possibly falling by as much as 50 percent. Extensive and continuous population displacement has left large tracts of agricultural land deserted. Insecurity in settled areas outside the ECOMOG controlled zone, has made it difficult for farmers to store seed for planting, and most have depended on emergency seed distribution programmes. Insecur ity has also discouraged weeding and crop protection activities in several of the high-potential settled areas. Cassava has proved to be more resilient to short term population displacement and the consequent neglect of crops. The mission’s es timates are highly tentative given that there has been no systematic survey of food production since 1989.

The Abuja peace agreement of 19 August 1995 has been widely respected by the main factions. ECOMOG, the West African peace-keeping force, is now deploying throughout Liberia. As roads into the interior of the country are opened up, the most food insecure populations will start to have access to market and relief food supplies and to outlets for their goods. There are already promising signs of a growth in commercial activity and in trade in food commodities across faction lines. However, the formal export sector is paralyzed and the country carries a heavy international debt burden. There is little chance of significant public sector imports in 1996. While private commercial imports of rice and flour are set to rise in 1996, a min imum of 163 000 tons of cereal food aid will be required. There are reports from neighbouring countries that refugees are now eager to return. As returnees will not be able to harvest rice for another 11 months and cassava for at least 5 months, a major influx will have clear implications for food aid needs. Based on an optimistic assumption on the returnee rate, a maximum of 179 000 tons of cereal food aid may be required.


FOOD PRODUCTION

Estimating crop production in Liberia is a formidable task. Data collection on food crop production prior to 1989 was somewhat patchy and no nationwide survey has been undertaken since then. For the pre-civil war period, comprehensive survey data is available for 1984, 1986 and 1988 and some incomplete data for 1989. The mission therefore based its calculations of pre-civil war norms on these four years. While some NGOs have gathered local information on yields an d cropped areas, little information is available on this season’s production, even at the county level. For this reason, the team had to base its estimates of planted area on some rather strong assumptions, described in more detail below, and has calculated upper and lower scenarios to reflect the margins of error. Most swamp rice crops and some upland crops were standing at the time of the mission so it was possible to derive some tentative yield estimates from crop observations and fa rm interviews.

Area Planted to Food Crops

Land preparation in most of Liberia was manual before the conflict, and continues to be so. While labour availability prior to 1989 was a major constraint to rice cultivation, several factors have reversed this. The collapse of plantation sector employment and of non-agricultural labour demand in general, combined with the irregularity and higher real prices of market food supplies has led to an increase in the returns to on-farm food production. The insecurity has led to high concentrati ons of unemployed populations in and around towns. Refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) have played a prominent role in food production in the populous areas and short term migrants have boosted the supply of agricultural wage labour.

The dislocation of population has not, in general, pressured the supply of land suitable for rice production in the uplands although in Montserrado, southern and central Cape Mount and Bomi and in Vahun district (Upper Lofa) pressure on swamp la nd is manifested in a gradual parcellization and some localized disputes between residents and IDPs over land tenure rights of deserted holdings.

The main constraint to planting has been the insecurity. Large areas of cultivable land have been depopulated, particularly in the counties of Bong, Grand Gedeh, Lofa and Nimba, which, between them, accounted for some 70 percent of national ric e production before the civil war. There is little evidence of cultivation in areas within twenty kilometres both sides of the faction lines. Furthermore, both short and long term migration has resulted in a lack of continuity in rice production. A s 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 provided by CRS (Catholic Relief Services). For this reason rice p roduction is generally limited to those areas where relief agencies were able to distribute. Locally, the supply of hand tools has been a constraint. Some imported tools have been distributed. Blacksmiths are in operation in all the areas of the co untry which were visited by the mission, but there are shortages of scrap metal up-country.

No formal surveys of planted area have been undertaken in the last five seasons. Data on current population, household size and average holding sizes are too weak and incomplete to give even a rough indication of planted area. For this reason, t he mission used data on total seeds distributed by county and beneficiary numbers to arrive at a minimum estimates of total area. The average seeding rate - calculated at 47 kg per hectare - is adjusted to reflect local seeding practices for upland and swamp area. County estimates were also modified where there has been significant consumption of seed prior to planting, on the basis of discussions with beneficiaries and implementing NGOs. Food use of distributed seed was found to have been reasonably low (under 5 percent of the total distributed quantity), especially where seeds were distributed in conjunction with food aid, so the method gives a good indication of the minimum likely area. The maximum area estimates include areas whi ch are known to have been planted using on-farm seed stocks, primarily in Upper Lofa, parts of Nimba, Maryland, Grand Gedeh, Montserrado and Sinoe.

Area planted to cassava has clearly declined at the national level, as a result of the depopulation of some of the main traditional growing areas of Lofa and Nimba. In localized areas of Cape Mount, Bomi, north western Nimba and Grand Bassa and Montserrado, where de-population has been less extensive or only for short periods, cassava production has been less affected than rice. Indeed, the lack of rice seed and interruptions in food supplies, led many farmers to commence cassava producti on. Parts of Cape Mount, Bomi, Upper Margibi, western Upper Lofa, Maryland and Grand Bassa had marketable cassava surpluses at the time of the mission. Local increases in area have not, however, been sufficient to compensate for the large expanses which have been abandoned throughout the country. Reports of shortages of planting materials were received in parts of Montserrado, Bomi and Cape Mount although efforts are now being made to increase the distribution of cassava sticks, including i mproved varieties. There is no way to make an accurate estimate of national cassava area or production, but the mission’s “guesstimates” on a county-by-county basis give a maximum national estimate of some 25 000 hectares (including both pure and mixed stands).

Yields of Food Crops

Average per hectare rice yields are estimated to be somewhat higher than the pre-civil war level. This surprising finding can be explained by the more diffused use of improved seed, the increased intensity of farm labour and a partial shift from upland to swamp cultivation. The potential increase has been partly offset by crop losses caused by short term population displacement during the season.

Yields of food crops have been highly variable. The vast majority of rice farmers have used improved seed varieties this season. According to a MoA survey in 1984, less than 50 percent of agricultural households were even aware of the existence of improved seeds. Even under the predominant low input / low maintenance rice technology the improved varieties tend to yield better than the local varieties. This has been demonstrated with informal field trials using the predominant distributed varieties (Rok series 3 & 5 from Sierra Leone). The relatively sparse agricultural population (except in some swampland areas) has allowed the extensive cultivation of virgin land. Only in Montserrado (where swamp soil fertility is said to be d eclining) and pockets of Cape Mount, is there any pressure on arable land. Quick maturing rice seed is becoming popular for off-season swamp cultivation of “hungry” rice. The improved rice varieties appear to have similar preparation, tas te and storage characteristics to the local varieties. The two main concerns are shattering and sensitivity to end of season rains. Also, some farmers complain that the short stem of some of the quick maturing varieties makes harvesting more arduou s.

No rainfall data is available for stations outside Monrovia for the 1995 season. Satellite images (Cold Cloud Duration) and farm interviews suggest that rainfall patterns were normal. Most of the inland areas of the country receive annual precip itation of between 2 000 and 3 000 millimetres with coastal rainfall norms of over 3 000 millimetres. A band of inland plateau extending from eastern Lofa through southern Nimba records an average of 1 000 to 2 000 millimetres per year. Crop inspec tions and farm interviews revealed no evidence of moisture stress. In parts of Cape Mount and Bomi, populations returned after the optimal planting time and late planted seedlings were damaged by the heavy rains in April and May. Agro-climatic cond itions have been otherwise favourable.

The distribution of inorganic fertilizer has been extremely limited (swampland vegetable and rice cultivation in Montserrado) and no fertilizer had been imported commercially for the 1995 crops. Organic fertilizer use is minimal as the livestock sector has been obliterated. The available information suggests that the application of inorganic fertilizer for rice production was negligible even before the civil war. There were several failed attempts at broadening its use. Changes in crop yi elds cannot be attributed to declining fertilizer availability.

It is difficult to determine the extent to which the conflict has changed the predominant rice and cassava production technologies. Before the civil war, applied food crop research and extension was geographically limited and constrained by a la ck of vehicles, and appropriately trained personnel and economically inappropriate extension messages, according to the World Bank’s Agricultural Sector Review of 1984. In areas of Bomi, Bong, Cape Mount, Montserrado, Grand Bassa and Upper Lof a, NGOs have encouraged the cultivation of community plots which have help to demonstrate and disseminate yield enhancing techniques.

Labour intensity is the key determinant of yields. There are marked differences in yield outcomes according to the frequency of transplanting (as opposed to broadcasting) and the regularity of weeding. The zero tillage system and high annual rai nfall makes for strong weed competition. The high concentration of rice plots (in the vicinity of towns) has increased the risk of losses to weaver birds and necessitates continuous bird-scaring. Labour cannot be regarded as a constraint. Indeed it is probable that the average real returns to labour for rice production have greatly increased since the civil war as a result of higher real farm-gate rice prices and the weakness of demand for off-farm labour. In many of the cultivated areas out side the ECOMOG zone, however, insecurity has discouraged farmers from spending prolonged periods in the fields. Intermittent displacement has affected crop husbandry in parts of Bomi, Bong and Cape Mount. Localized infestations of grasshopper and termites were observed but the insect pest situation was generally judged to be “normal”.

The mission’s swamp rice yield estimates are based on the team’s visual observations, farm interviews and bunch measurements. As a considerable proportion of the upland crop had been harvested at the time of the mission, the team relie d on farmer recollections, visual observations of crop residues and the opinions of local NGO representatives concerning the returns per tin of rice seed planted. The findings were compared to the preliminary results of some non-scientific random y ield measures (for both swamp and upland) conducted under the auspices of CRS in their main operational areas.


Table 1: 1995 Paddy Production Compared to Pre Civil Strife Levels (metric tons)1/

COUNTY

Minimum scenario 1995

Minimum as % of

pre-civil strife

Maximum scenario 1995

Maximum as % of pre civil strife

Grand Bassa

4 810

26.0

5 305

28.7

Bomi

1 766

21.1

1 966

23.5

Bong

12 128

22.1

12 878

23.4

Cape Mount

7 840

59.8

8 390

64.0

Grand Gedeh

1 100

4.2

1 870

7.2

Grand Kru

0

-

550

6.3

Lofa

9 940

22.2

12 780

28.6

Maryland

600

4.9

1 200

9.8

Margibi

3 370

51.8

3 535

54.4

Montserrado

6 940

81.3

7 150

83.8

Nimba

6 702

10.0

7 402

11.1

Rivercess

500

14.8

700

20.8

Sinoe

500

3.7

700

5.2

LIBERIA

56 196

19.7

64 426

22.6


1/ Sources: Mission estimates, MoA for average values

Potential cassava yields have been hit by short term and long term population displacement and by immature harvesting necessitated by food shortage. There is, however, some evidence of an increased diffusion of higher yielding varieties in parts of Cape Mount and Montserrado. Further, a shift away from intercropped cassava (with very low plant densities) towards pure stands, has increased cassava yields in some areas. Pest infestations have been relatively infrequent this season. While th e picture varies from county to county, there is little evidence that yields (of harvested cassava) differ from the historic level. Based on the assumption of average yields therefore, the mission estimates that national cassava production could ha ve reached a maximum of 175 000 tons, 50 percent of the pre-civil war level.


FOOD SUPPLY AND DEMAND IN 1996

Food Utilization

Since early 1990 the population of Liberia has been in a continual state of flux. At the time of the mission an estimated 741 000 Liberians were refugees in neighbouring countries. The majority of the population has been displaced or has taken r efuge in a neighbouring country at some time in the 19901995 period. An approximate calculation of the national population can be made by projecting the “normal times” population on the basis of the population growth rate of 3.31 percent (the growth rate derived from the last two censuses, of 1974 and 1984). Estimates from UN, NGO and media sources suggest that between 150 000 and 200 000 people have died as a direct result of the conflicts. The estimated total mid-year population for 1995, net of mortality and refugees outside and inside the country is 2 036 000 people. The estimate is based on the assumption that there have been no changes in fertility rates as a direct result of the civil strife. UNHCR estimates that some 80 per cent of refugees will return during 1996, as a result of the Abuja agreement and ECOMOG deployment, some spontaneously and some with UNHCR’s assistance. Using this projection and the same natural growth rate, the maximum mid-1996 popul ation is projected at 2 424 000 people. A minimum population scenario of 2 313 000 people is based on the conservative assumption that only half of the refugees outside the country will return in 1996.

While some local censuses have been undertaken, they were not used as a basis for the national population estimate as; 1) the census data is only available for limited geographical areas; 2) much of the local census data does not differentiate b etween short-term and long term migrants; 3) some of the local census data has been compiled for the purpose of food and farm input distribution programmes and may therefore be inflated by double-registrations.

Household budget and expenditure surveys are available for 1986 but focus only on urban areas and there have been major shifts since then, most notably an increase in dietary dependence on cassava and wild foods. Average annual per caput apparen t cereal consumption from 1989 to 1995 is provisionally estimated 106 kilogrammes. This figure, the “status quo” consumption norm, is used to calculate the minimum cereal import requirement to maintain national per caput cereal consumptio n at historic levels. The estimate should be treated with some caution as it is based on some rather speculative estimates of cereal production and population movements in the 1989-1995 period.

Pre-civil war norms are used to calculate post harvest loss rates. While there has been widespread destruction of on-farm storage facilities, the high market price of rice is likely to encourage good storage practices. Losses of rice in storage and transit are forecast at 3 000 tons in 1996. The following assumptions are used to calculate seed use: 1) a seeding rate of 45 kg per hectare; 2) a total (maximum) rice area of 65 000 hectares in 1996; and 3) that at least two thirds of the tota l area will be planted with imported seed from distribution programmes. On these assumptions, seed use from domestic supplies could reach a maximum of 1 000 tons. In addition storage and transit losses for imported wheat and corn/soya blend (CSB) c ould reach 4 000 tons, giving a total non-food cereal utilization for 1996 of 8 000 tons. Feed utilization of cereals is assumed to be negligible. The commercial cattle and poultry sectors have been obliterated by the civil war and there are few si gns that a major recovery will occur in 1996.

On these assumptions total cereal utilization in 1996 is calculated at a lower limit of 247 000 tons and an upper limit of 258 000 tons.

Food Stocks

The mission estimates that a maximum of 8 000 tons of cereals will be available for draw-down in 1996. A shipment of 5 400 tons of commercial parboiled rice was unloaded in mid-December. Allowing for the minimum level of private sector working s tocks at the end of 1996, a net draw down of 4 000 tons is possible.


Table 2: Provisional Estimates of 1996 Opening Stocks (January 1) of Cereals

RICE

WHEAT

CSB1/

CEREALS

Relief Stocks (WFP)

0

6 500

200

6 700

Relief Stocks (CRS)

1 700

3 300

1 500

6 500

Commercial Stock

4 500

1 000

0

5 500

Total

6 200

10 800

1 700

18 700

1/ calculated in maize grain equivalent


While relief sector closing stocks are close to the minimum current working level, a reduction in the scale of relief operations towards the end of 1996, when the next rice crop becomes available, may permit a drawdown of some 4 000 tons of cere al food aid commodities.

On farm and small trader carry-over stocks of domestic produce are assumed to be negligible. The disastrous 1994 crop, insecurity of stocks and the coincidence of the end of the marketing year and the harvesting of the 1995 crop make inter-annua l carry over stocks unlikely. None of the farmers interviewed had any 1994 produce in stock.

Commercial Food Imports

Recorded commercial imports of cereal commodities (through the Freeport, Monrovia) are limited to parboiled rice and small quantities of wheat flour. In 1995, formal rice imports increased from the depressed levels of 1992-1994 to some 20 000 to ns. The large and sustained expansion in the population of Monrovia (now estimated at 800 000 people, compared to some 500 000 before the war), a marked revival in the economic vitality of the city and the progress in the peace negotiations, all co ntributed to the increase. In addition, the mission estimates that some 4 000 tons of cleaned rice equivalent entered Liberia in 1996 in the form of informal cross border imports from Guinea and Côte d’Ivoire. This calculation is based on the frequency and average tonnage of trucks carrying rice reported at the frontier towns and destination points.

A further increase in commercial rice imports is anticipated in 1996. The deployment of ECOMOG will open up new trading possibilities in deficit areas in the interior of the country. The gradual recovery of commercial activities in Monrovia will also give a boost to demand. Importers’ incentives have also been improved by the progress in the peace negotiations and signs that the Liberty dollar exchange rate is beginning to stabilize after some major fluctuations earlier in 1995. Cros s border imports may also increase as restrictions on frontier trade are gradually lifted.

Before the war the rubber concessions and the LPMC (Liberian Produce Marketing Corporation - a parastatal) were responsible for most of the commercial rice imports. The virtual collapse of the rubber industry has ended that source of supply. Th e public sector’s capacity to import is limited by a very weak foreign currency revenue and reserve base and a heavy international debt repayment burden. Public sector imports were negligible in 1995 and it is doubtful whether there will be a significant increase in 1996. All the rice importation ex Monrovia is now handled by a small number of private traders. This year the cif cost of US parboiled rice has fluctuated between U.S.$ 320 and U.S.$ 360 per ton, whereas the wholesale price in Monrovia is some U.S.$ 430 to U.S.$ 460 per ton. The high mark up and small numbers of traders suggest that a cartel may be in operation. If this is indeed the case, more competitive commercial importation of rice would be of benefit to consumer s and would probably increase the total quantity of imports. On the assumption that there are no reversals in the peace process, commercial rice imports, including informal cross-border trade, are forecast to increase to 30 000 tons in 1996. Commer cial wheat imports (mainly flour) are anticipated to rise slightly from the 1995 level of 8 500 tons to an estimated 10 000 tons (grain equivalent), giving total commercial cereal imports in the region of 40 000 tons for 1996.

Food Aid

Table 3 below presents the mission’s estimates of maximum and minimum total cereal food aid requirement scenarios for 1996. The cereal food aid requirement is largely comprised of emergency food aid in bulgur wheat and CSB although some ric e may be distributed from CRS’s carried over stocks. WFP is currently making an evaluation of emergency food aid needs.

The mission supports the provision of bulgur wheat as a food aid commodity, rather than rice as the main general distribution commodity for the following reasons: 1) it is considerably cheaper than rice per unit weight; 2) food aid in rice would probably create price disincentives for both commercial rice importers and farmers. Liberia has long been dependent on subsidized rice imports and food aid. In view of the declining world availability of all food aid, and especially rice, there is little hope that the historically high levels of demand for imported rice can be sustained; 3) bulgur wheat has a higher per unit caloric content than cleaned rice; 4) there is little risk that the provision of bulgur wheat will lead to a shift in dietary preferences away from locally produced commodities, 5) bulgur wheat stocks are less likely to be pilfered as the market price of a cup of bulgur wheat is only 10 to 20 percent of that of cleaned rice and 6) the depressed market prices of b ulgur wheat mean that in areas where distribution has taken place there is a supply of cheap and nutritious food for market-dependent households. The team observed that in areas where alternative food supplies and income sources are lacking, benefi ciaries are consuming a substantial proportion of their rations. Bulgur wheat is not, however, a popular choice of ration. Beneficiaries associate the commodity with digestive disorders - although this may relate to the preparation techniques rath er than the nature of commodity itself.

WFP and CRS are the primary providers of food aid, while a combination of local and international NGOs are responsible for the distribution. Distribution modalities include local general distributions (for local populations, IDPs and refugees), school feeding, seed protection, supplementary feeding and food for work schemes.

Table 3 below presents the mission’s tentative estimates of maximum total food aid requirements for 1996.


Table 3: Cereal Balance Sheet for the 1996 Marketing Year January/December (1000 metric tons)

rice

total cereals

DOMESTIC AVAILABILITY (minimum estimate)

42

47

minimum production 1/

38

39

stock draw-down

4

8

DOMESTIC UTILIZATION (maximum estimate)

72

266

maximum food use

68

258

other uses

4

8

CEREAL IMPORT REQUIREMENT

30

219

commercial imports

30

40

total food aid requirement

-

179

1/ Rice in milled form using an extraction rate of 66.7 percent. Total cereals production estimate includes some 1 000 tons of coarse grains production.

Using the maximum plausible production estimate of 45 000 tons (milled rice equivalent) and the minimum estimate for food use of 247 000 tons (based on the returnee rate of 50 percent in 1996), the minimum food aid requirement is calculated at 1 63 000 tons.


FOOD AND NUTRITION SITUATION

Trade in food commodities is running smoothly in the ECOMOG controlled areas although the mission received reports that there was some informal levying at road blocks. While there is a severe shortage of vehicles for fre ight transport, small traders are very much in evidence. The price of parboiled rice varies reflecting little more than the transport costs from Monrovia. Outside the ECOMOG zone, there is marked spatial food price variation, indicative of constrai nts to internal trade. At the time of the mission, for example, the price of rice ranged from 25 Liberty dollars for one cup (Voinjama, Lofa) to 3 cups for 10 Liberty dollars (Vahun, Lofa). The poor state of the roads (in Lofa, parts of Nimba, Gran d Gedeh) and the vulnerability of traders to looting has resulted in high mark-ups. The recent deployment of ECOMOG throughout the country should facilitate the integration of markets in 1996.

Few households, even in the high potential areas, will be self sufficient in rice for the duration of 1996. Trade in locally produced “country” rice is weak. There are small seasonal local surpluses in Vahun district (Lofa, sold across the Sierra Leone border) and in central/ western Montserrado (for the Monrovia market) but elsewhere the bulk of domestic production is for on-farm consumption. In areas of Bong, Bomi, Cape Mount, western Montserrado, Nimba, western Upper Lofa and southern Grand Bassa, surplus cassava production is more common. Indeed, there is considerable movement of cassava towards Monrovia where demand has been boosted by the presence of ECOMOG soldiers and the relatively high price of rice.

Farm production is an important source of food for both resident and migrant population groups. The abundance of agricultural land has ensured that a high proportion of long term IDPs and refugees have been able to cultivate food crops alongside the host population. For this reason, there is little justification for food interventions which focus only on migrant populations, in areas which have been stable since March 1994. Elsewhere, those IDPs, refugees and returnees who settled too lat e for the planting season are clearly vulnerable. In all of the farming areas visited by the team, labour markets were in operation. Contracts ranged from daily spot markets with cash payments to labouring for a share of the final output.

The formal export sector has collapsed. Mining accounted for 7 percent of the pre-civil war work force and was the country’s largest foreign currency earner, but iron ore production has stalled. In Cape Mount and Margibi there is some small scale diamond and gold mining. The timber industry is beginning to pick up, although informal timber exports are thought to have continued throughout the war. There has been a marked increase in marketing of non-food items since the signing of the Abuja agreement. A conspicuous quantity of charcoal is being produced in parts of Cape Mount, Bomi, Bong, rural Montserrado and Margibi for the Monrovia market. Illegal rubber tapping has commenced in Cape Mount and western Bomi although the main plantations are not being managed or systematically exploited. Plantains, bananas, oranges and sales of wild foods are also an increasingly important source of supplementary income in rural areas. In rural Montserrado off-season vegetable productio n is beginning to flourishing.

Trading activities are now the mainstay of the Monrovia economy. Public sector wages have failed to keep up with inflation (caused by the progressive devaluation of the Liberty dollar). Public employees complain of late payments and strikes are frequent. Most civil servants, school teachers, police officers and medical staff depend on part time informal sector employment. A significant proportion of the population of Monrovia and its environs has small plots or kitchen gardens. Some resid ents of Monrovia maintain small plots as far away as Cape Mount.

Petty trading is much less evident outside the ECOMOG controlled areas. In the zones close to faction front lines such as the Gbarnga - Voinjama axis, economic activities are at a standstill. These zones are characterized by sparse civilian popu lations who depend largely on the collection of wild foods and palm products from the forest.

Local nutrition surveys have been undertaken by several of the international NGOs (most notably AICF, MSF-Holland, SCF-UK and World Vision) and by UNICEF. The lack of historic anthropometric data in Liberia precludes a comparison of current maln utrition rates with pre-civil strife levels. Outside Monrovia and its immediate environs, there has also been little continuity in the collection of nutrition data since 1990 as a result of the intermittent interruptions to relief activities. The f requency of infant malnutrition appears to have dropped in areas in and around Monrovia where relief interventions have been possible but remain high in some IDP camps in Montserrado. Intermittent surveys from areas outside the ECOMOG zone in the p ast five years have all pointed to alarmingly high malnutrition rates. Intermittent food availability and heavy dependence on cassava and other low-nutrient roots and tubers help to explain the frequency of malnutrition related diseases. Several re cent surveys in Liberia have also suggested a statistical relationship between diarrhea and malnutrition. Diarrhea prevalence is thought to have increased, particularly in urban areas, as a result of high densities of IDPs living in crowded conditi ons and sharing limited drinking and bathing water supplies and the collapse of water and sanitation systems.


CROP AND FOOD SUPPLY SITUATION BY COUNTY

Bomi

Much of the land area of Bomi has been the scene of faction fighting in 1995. The bulk of crop production has been limited to the vicinity of towns in the ECOMOG controlled areas. Sporadic security incidents prior to the Abuja agreement led to a neglect of crops and low rice yields particularly in the area of Tubmanburg. The team was not able to visit the areas controlled by ULIMO J but reports suggest that cultivation is limited to small “hidden” plots and population densities are sparse.

Marketing activities are not well developed in the central areas of the county. In southern and eastern areas of the county there is a busy trade in charcoal, timber and some plantains and cassava to Monrovia. In the area bordering Cape Mount il legal rubber tapping is flourishing. There is little evidence of economic activity in central and northern areas of the county. IDPs and local residents in and around Tubmanburg are heavily dependent on food aid and on gathering of wild foods. The little rice available on the markets is exclusively parboiled, priced at 2 cups for 25 Liberty dollars.

Bong

Cultivation is limited to areas in the vicinity of main towns. There are only small patches of cultivation in the areas of Bong which border Lofa county. No cultivation was visible from the Gbarnga - St Paul’s bridge road to the west althou gh small pockets of cultivation were spotted from the helicopter.

Until recently trade with Monrovia on the Gbarnga - Margibi axis was constrained by physical road blocks and problems of currency convertibility. While the “JJ” dollar is still the official currency in the NPFL controlled areas, and L iberty dollars are not accepted, the “JJ” is freely exchangeable with Liberty at Kakata and a can now be purchased in Monrovia. The exchange rate is beginning to stabilize. Bong is a rice deficit area and the importance of trade with Monr ovia must be stressed. Parboiled rice from the Freeport is now available on markets in southern areas of Bong. In the western “front-line” areas, the civilian population is very sparse. Buildings have been destroyed and the security situa tion was still tense at the time of the mission. Both the civilian and military population of the area claim to be depending on wild yams, eddoes and plantains. A recent survey conducted in Lower Bong found high frequencies of children below 3 stan dard deviations from the median weight for height or manifesting kwashiorkor.

Cape Mount

Large scale population displacement has occurred and, at the time of the mission, large tracts north of the Monrovia-Tieni road were very sparsely populated. Cultivation was limited to small plots hidden in the bush. The population, which also c omprises large numbers of IDPs and Sierra Leonean refugees, is concentrated in southern areas of the county and near to the main road. Much of the cultivation is limited to the coastal eco-system, characterized by light sandy soils and low fertilit y and more suitable for cassava than rice production. Land has been freely available to displaced people and refugees and the team received no reports of land disputes or land rental agreements. There is, however, some pressure on swampland cultiva tion.

Population displacement in 1994 and 1995 meant that many households returned to their farms late in the planting season. Some late planted upland rice seedlings were washed away as rains had set in and this has affected yields locally. In some l ocalities close to the road, there have been significant increases in cassava production, even compared to pre-civil war levels. The relative settled population (at least until 1994) allowed some continuity in plantings and new plantings as rice su pplies became restricted.

Trade is now moving freely along the main axis to Bomi and Monrovia. The marketing of palm oil, and the (illegal) tapping of rubber provide an important income source for the resident population as do oranges and plantains also for the Monrovia market. There was some evidence that IDPs and refugees do not have the same rights to the exploitation of tree crops. Most households have a rice deficit, but parboiled rice is available on the market in the ECOMOG area, at prices which reflect lit tle more than the transportation costs from Monrovia.

Grand Bassa

Crop production has been limited to a narrow band of the county around Buchanan and along the main arterial road. Seed distribution programmes have reached over 3 000 farm families in the county. Small surpluses of cassava are being marketed alt hough country rice is not readily available on the market. Elsewhere, crop production is limited to small hidden plots as a result of population displacement.

Petty commodity trade and food market is beginning to pick up as the security situation improves. Trucks are moving relatively freely from Monrovia.

Grand Gedeh

The county has been affected by continuous insecurity and major population displacement. A WFP report estimates the March 1995 resident population at just over one third of the pre-civil war level. All farming activities have come to a virtual s tandstill and no significant quantities of rice seed have been distributed since 1992. Only small pockets of rice, cassava and plantain cultivation are reported in Putu and Konobo in the environs of Zwedru. Marketing activities are limited in Zwedr u, the county capital, and the civilian population is estimated to be less than 1 000. The Tappita-Zwedru road is virtually impassable, covered in thick vegetation. Based on aerial observations, rice production in 1995 is estimated to have reached a maximum of 1 870 tons, which is 7 percent of the pre-civil war average. Production of cassava is unlikely to exceed 10 percent of the pre-civil war average.

Most of the civilian population is reported to be dependent on the gathering of wild foods (wild yams, palm cabbage, palm butter) for survival. A recent nutrition survey undertaken by World Vision International provisionally estimates global chi ld malnutrition rates (below two standard deviations from the median weight for height) at 31.7 percent and acute child malnutrition (below three standard deviations from the median weight for height) at 5.7 percent. A survey in 1991 also found ala rmingly high levels of infant malnutrition.

Lofa

Much of the civilian population of Lofa has fled although there are some high concentrations of IDPs and refugees and, to a lesser extent, local residents in Vahun, Kolahun and Foya districts in Upper Lofa. The area from Voinjama to the border w ith Bong County has been hotly disputed until recently. Zorzor, Salayae and Voinjama districts remain is largely deserted and crop production has been negligible. The few civilians in the area are primarily dependent on hunting and gathering.

Significant crop production is limited to a narrow band of parts of Foya, Kolahun and Vahun districts, which have benefited from a relatively calm security situation this year. Some rice seeds have been retained (no seed has been distributed in the area in the last two years) and a large influx of refugees from Sierra Leone has boosted the local farming population. Cultivation is quite extensive in Vahun, where there is a significant surplus of cassava. Rice prices at the time of the miss ion were the lowest in the country and small quantities were being sold in Sierra Leone. Elsewhere in the county, production is limited to very sparse pockets of cultivation secluded in densely wooded areas.

Vahun and parts of Kolahun have been isolated from markets by the closure of the Sierra Leonean border and the poor state of the roads. A barter economy has emerged but basic non-food items are in very short supply. There have been recent influx es of refugees from Sierra Leone who were not able to cultivate this season remain vulnerable. Foya has a food deficit although there is some cross border trade with Guinea. Coffee and cocoa are being exported and trucks carrying rice are arriving regularly. In the Voinjama area, populations are heavily dependent on gathering wild foods and on cross border rice imports from Guinea. In Zorzor, where hardly any rice is available, the small civilian population is depending exclusively on bush f oods. In most areas of the county a high proportion of the children show signs of kwashiorkor.

Margibi

Parts of Upper Margibi have been disputed until recently and the security situation remained tense in Kakata at the time of the mission. Some of the towns along the main Monrovia-Kakata axis are deserted although there is evidence that, with the ECOMOG deployment, residents are beginining to return. The total population, ithe majority of whom are IDPs, is estimated to be some 65 percent of the pre-civil war level. A total of 144 tons of rice seed were reportedy distributed this year, to s ome 3 700 beneficiaries. Locally, some good swampland yields have been obtained. Cassava production was not widespread before the civil war and long term population displacement has led to a decline of over 50 percent.

The Firestone plantation, which was the county’s major economic enterprise before the war, is out of operation, although some illegal tapping and cutting of trees for charcoal is in evidence. Small quantities of parboiled rice are available on the markets and, at the time of the mission, country rice was also being sold both locally and to parts of Bong. Food aid has been distributed to both local residents and internally displaced persons. Plantains and bananas are being marketed to Monrovia although production has suffered a major decline as a result of lack of maintenance. The road is in a good condition and trade is now running smoothly. Trucking capacity remains constrained. In 1993, an MSF Holland survey reported high ma lnutrition rates and incidence of kwashiorkor, marasmus and malnutrition related mortality. Surveys in April and May 1995 suggest that malnutrition rates remained high, particularly among recent returnees or IDPs. and that malnutrition related mort alities continued to occur.

Maryland

The county’s population is probably little more than 35 percent of pre-civil war level, with the main concentration in and around Harper town. Most of the former population has fled to Côte d’Ivoire. There is considerable cross bo rder movement and some permanent influxes are now foreseen. Crop cultivation is restricted to cassava in areas surrounding Harper and to pockets elsewhere in Plebo-Sodiden, Kolonken and Barebo districts (rice and cassava intercrops). There have bee n no significant distributions of rice seed since the beginning of civil war. Some farmers in Harper had surpluses of cassava and small quantities of country rice were available on market at the time of the mission.

Parboiled rice is available from Côte d’Ivoire and a busy cross-border trade has emerged. The rice price is 10 “JJs” per cup, which is significantly higher than in the ECOMOG areas. The primary source of income is reportedly cane juice.

Montserrado

The population of Monrovia and environs is much higher than pre-civil war levels, possible as high as 900 000 compared to 500 000 before the war. It has been boosted by IDPs and, to a lesser extent, refugees. The calm security situation is the m ain reason for the increase.

There have been important shifts in agriculture in the county. While the traditional cash crop sector has collapsed, a higher proportion of rural population is now farming food crops and among the urban population kitchen gardening and absentee farming is common. There has been a significant increase in swampland cultivation of rice and vegetables. Pressure on the swampland was noted. Local land disputes are reported and a land rental market has emerged in some southern and central areas. Land rights remain a contentious issue, especially for land belonging to long term absentees. Off-season vegetable production provides an important income source and there are some producers of surplus rice in the environs of Jonstonville. Norther n and north eastern areas of the county however, were largely deserted at the time of the mission and crop production was minimal. For this reason, despite the increase of cultivation around Monrovia, rice production in the county as a whole remain s below pre-civil war levels.

For most of the Monrovia population the main staples are imported rice, distributed food aid and some cassava. Rice prices fluctuated in 1995 depending on the exchange rate, and the timing of shipments and food aid distributions. Markets are flo urishing in the capital and surrounding townships and an expansion in petty entrepreneurial activity was noted. Recent nutrition surveys suggest that infant malnutrition rates are stabilizing. High malnutrition partly reflects the high incidence of diarrhea caused by over-crowded houses and poor sanitation. The mains water supplies are not operational. The salaries of government servants, police and teachers have not increased in line with inflation and there are considerable arrears in paym ents Most are forced to engage in other part time activities. The EU has commissioned a multiple indicator cluster survey of Monrovia, including food security related variables, the results of which are expected to be released in February.

Nimba

Hostilities in September 1994 resulted in extensive population movements south, towards Bong and Montserrado and north towards Guinea and Côte d’Ivoire. While the hostilities declined in the second semester of 1995 and the influx of r eturnees is now beginning to gather pace, much of the original population has yet to return and farming activities are limited to narrow stretches in the vicinity of roads and towns.

There are pockets of upland and rice cultivation along the main Bong - Yekeopa and Ganta - Tapita roads. Swampland cultivation has become more important, particularly as it allows 2 or 3 crops per year. Land for annual crops is freely available to local residents and IDPs and there is an abundance of casual farm labour willing to work for a share of the final output. Seed was distributed to IDPs and local populations for the 1995 rice season and some farmers have been multiplying seeds o n farm, but input supplies remain a constraint to cultivation. With much of the cultivable land de-populated, total rice area remains well below pre-civil war levels. Yields are varied. Much of the swampland rice is transplanted and the enforced f allowing has been beneficial to yields. There have been no notable pest infestations but regular weeding has been prevented by the tense security situation.

At the time of the mission’s visit, the rice price had fallen to 2 cups for 5 “JJ” dollars, after a pre-harvest peak of 7.5 dollars per cup. The strong seasonality in the prices suggest that supplies are most unstable. Imported ri ce is rarely available on the market. Until recently, the high density of young soldiers in the area has discouraged traders. With the deployment of ECOMOG and signs that the discipline of the soldiers is improving, trade is now beginning to pick u p. Removing road-blocks on the Gbarnga-Ganta road will probably lead to a flow of parboiled rice from Monrovia, which will help to stabilize prices.

Nimba is unique among the counties of Liberia in that cassava is considered to be the main staple. In the county as a whole, production has fallen dramatically as a result of the de-population but local surpluses are available and the majority o f households depend on cassava consumption throughout the year. Planting materials are not seen to be a constraint to production. The majority of the population is farming cassava and there is some evidence that in addition to own farm production, households have been harvesting from deserted farms. Cassava sales are an important source of cash income and will become more so with the opening of transport routes. Palm oil is in short supply. Exploitation of local palm trees is restricted to t he (small) local resident population. The displaced population is dependent on market purchases of palm oil from Bong. The restrictions to trading have meant that retail prices are much higher in Nimba than in Bong, despite the relatively short dis tances and the good quality of the road. Food aid distribution has been limited to supplementary feeding in most of the county.

Sinoe

Farming activities in Sinoe have come to a virtual standstill after 3 years of intermittent faction fighting, extensive harassment and isolation from markets. According to local authorities, the 1995 farming population may be as high as 12 000 f arm families, but cultivation has been extremely limited. Shortages of seeds are a binding constraint to rice cultivation. No seed rice has been distributed since 1992. Only small pockets of rice cultivation can be observed from the air whereas mos t rural householders are reportedly cultivating some cassava.

According to a recent report by Oxfam (UK), the majority of both the rural and the urban population are depending on palm cabbage, palm nuts, paw-paw and other wild foods. Small quantities of bulgur wheat have arrived at Greenville by canoe but markets remain paralyzed. The county’s main revenue sources before the civil war were rubber, palm products, plywood and fruit. Processing and marketing linkages have collapsed. No systematic nutrition surveys have been undertaken in recent ye ars, but kwashiorkor is evident among children, particularly as one moves up country from Greenville.

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. Abdu r Rashid, Chief, ESCG, FAO, (Telex 610181 FAO I; Fax: 0039-6-5225-4495, E-Mail (INTERNET): GIEWS1@FAO.ORG) for further information if required.