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Promoting Agricultural Production in the New Liberia

Syrulwa Somah, Ph.D (January 6th 2005)  

"...With so much fertile soil, natural wetlands, and forest resources, Liberia has no reason to be poor or to even beg for food from abroad. But we are our own worst enemies in Liberia because before Firestone Rubber Plantation introduced the much talked about “pussava rice” in Liberia, Liberia showed some ingenuity at communal farming through indigenous farming strategies such as the “susu” or “ku” (communal farming), which in the late 30s through the 40s didn’t only enable Liberia to export rice and other agricultural commodities to Ghana and other West African nations, but our nation was the gateway and “melting pot” in Africa.. ..."

Liberia has abundant fertile soil for the growing of bananas, rice, plantain, bitter ball, cassava, Malaguatta pepper, mushroom, coffee, kola, cocoa, mango, okra, palm nuts, papaya, pepper, yams, eddoes, sweet potatoes, greens, and other basic agricultural products consumed in Liberian homes, cities, towns, and villages everyday. But it is sad that successive governments in our nation saw the massive importation of rice and other basic commodities as more than a national effort aimed at increased agricultural production in Liberia. Previous agricultural production schemes such as the Green Revolution Program under President Doe and the Green Revolution Program under President Tolbert’s five to ten years food self-sufficiency plan yielded limited or no tangible results in easing Liberia’s dependency on foreign nations for the supply of rice, the national staple. Nevertheless, I believe that any nation that cannot feed its people but relies on other nations for basic food supplies has no national pride, and it is now time for Liberia to restore its national pride through agricultural production. I believe that agricultural production is the lifeline of Liberia and every national leader in the new Liberia would do well to make agricultural production a national priority.

In addition to fertile soil, our nation is blessed with high annual rainfalls, wetlands, huge rain forests, lakes, creeks, and rivers. A number of rivers and lakes crisscross the country, including 15 river basins, rich tributaries, along with four types of coastal wetlands such as the Mesurado, Lake Shepherd, Bafu Bay and inland riverine like Marshall (Du and Farmington basins) and the Cestos-Senkwehn, Kpatawe (Kromah, 2001). These bodies of water are not only remarkable coral creation but are often panorama of natural beauty that makes Liberia the number one waterfalls nation in Africa and the world ( The natural beauty of Liberia also includes a large quantity of forests covering nearly 14 million acres, including 230 species of useable timber such as Mahogany, some of which have several heads, sacred oracles, Walnut, Makere red ironwood (Ekki for house and bridge building), Teak, Whismore, Camwood, Abura, and Niango. Wildlife such as elephants, viviparous toad, cross river gorilla, water buffalo, lions, zebra duiker, leopards, Diana monkey, white mangabey, chimpanzees, pygmy hippopotamus, the only kind in the world, and eagles are also plenteous in Liberia. Magnificent “dancing birds” such as gymnobucco calvus, gymnobucco peli, pogoniulus scolopaceus, and pogoniulus white-breasted guinea fowl atroflavus, pogoniulus subsulphureus, buccanodon duchaillui and lybius vieilloti are found in Liberia as well (

With so much fertile soil, natural wetlands, and forest resources, Liberia has no reason to be poor or to even beg for food from abroad. But we are our own worst enemies in Liberia because before Firestone Rubber Plantation introduced the much talked about “pussava rice” in Liberia, Liberia showed some ingenuity at communal farming through indigenous farming strategies such as the “susu” or “ku” (communal farming), which in the late 30s through the 40s didn’t only enable Liberia to export rice and other agricultural commodities to Ghana and other West African nations, but our nation was the gateway and “melting pot” in Africa. Liberia enjoyed agricultural productions at the time without any European machinery such as farm tractors, fertilizers, trucks, mills, and so forth. Our national failure at food sufficiency due to lack of increased agricultural production began with introduction of the “pussava rice” in Liberian society by Firestone and ever since Liberians, especially Liberians in the urban centers, have been duped into believing that pussava, Uncle Ben’s, and other imported pot boiled rice from America, Europe, and Asia are far better and nutritious than the Liberian home grown rice, known by its Bassa and Kru name, “bogaa.” Today, many Liberians tend to put high premium on Irish potatoes, Argo oil, corn oil, and processed oils from abroad as opposed to home made coconut oil, palm kernel oil, corn oil, peanut oil, and so forth. Our taste for foreign canned fish instead of Liberian cold-water fish is conspicuous with respect to the number of sardines, American chickens, canned tuna and salmon and so on.

In general, many of us in Liberia have been misled into believing that eating “pussava” or Uncle Ben’s rice makes us “kwi" (civilized) people instead of seeing our dependency on other nations for our basic food and household products as self-enslavement. The orgy of destruction in 1979 rice riots ($40 million private property damage, 40 demonstrators dead, 500 wounded, etc.) which occurred when the Minister of Agriculture, Florence Chenoweth decided to increase the subsidized price of rice from $22 for a 100 pound bag to $26 dollars speaks to our collective vulnerability.

For the most part, Liberia not only used to produce rice and other agricultural products sufficient for local consumption and export, but Liberia also used to produce its own cloth such as the “kpodor” or country gown. Threads from palm trees were produced to sew these cloths into fine suits. Liberians also used to produce a variety of bath soap and glue, while local smelters used to produce axes, cutlasses, knives, spoons, shoes, guns and other household and farm items for public consumption. But, somehow, along the way, we adopted the reversed psychology or colonial interpretation of "love and brotherhood" to mean the trashing of our traditional culture, mores, and norms. We need to return to the soil if we wish to succeed in the new Liberia by making agricultural production not only a national priority, but by making agricultural studies a key component of higher education in Liberia.

No doubt one hundred fifty-seven years of greed and abuse of power by the national leadership fueled a 14-year civil war that left Liberia in tatters, despite the fact that before the civil war, about 80 percent of Liberians lived in the Liberian countryside where they engaged in small scale agricultural production as a source of food supply and employment. However, for the first time in our national history, more than 1.4 million Liberians now live in Monrovia, thereby abandoning agricultural production in the countryside. The consequences of the social, economic, cultural, and political violence perpetrated by our national leaders over the years have led to the mass suffering of the Liberian people, compounded(according to by such adverse societal effects as:

-High infant mortality rate
-Life expectancy of only 48 years
-Large number of squatters in public buildings,
-Illiteracy at 87 percent
-Deforestation of tropical rain forests
-Poor water quality & raw sewage disposal
-AIDS is at 10 percent of the adult population
-Major transshipment center for Asian heroin & cocaine from South America
-Half of population displaced
-400,000 dead during the Civil Wars

Since the end of the civil war, many Liberians have been facing severe hunger problems, while one-third of Liberians are undernourished. Per capita food production in Liberia today is almost zero because many subsistence Liberian farmers abandoned their towns and villages in the Liberian countryside for the safety of Monrovia and other places. But the need for food self-sufficiency and agricultural production in Liberia is so urgent that the new national leaders in Liberia will have to use their political leadership to rally Liberians together to deal with the increased strain on national resources, energy supply, and infrastructural development by creating new challenges and new opportunities for all Liberians. Liberia needs a new national leadership with a new strategy to embark on a program of national integration and reform, with the aim of returning to those traditional values and leadership styles that promoted less violence and led to food sufficiency, if we ever wish to free ourselves from the stranglehold of foreign cultural dominance on Liberian society.

The “sorry state” our nation is in today derives either from misinformation about our soil and forest resources, or a complete lack of appreciation for our own ability to feed ourselves and develop our country. Liberia urgently needs robust agricultural development plans, probably a 10-Year Plan or two Five-Year Plans devoted to agricultural production if the Liberian people must lessen the current dependency on foreign food commodities and enjoy food self-sufficiency in the fourth Liberian republic and thereafter, after the 2005 elections.

In order to sustain itself as a sovereign and stable state after the elections, Liberia must begin to seriously consider an agricultural revolution similar to the Chinese Cultural Revolution in 1949. Under its “Great Leap Forward” plan or agricultural self-sufficiency program, the Chinese, in less than 10 years (by 1958), had an estimated “750,000 agricultural producers' cooperatives, now designated as production brigades. These cooperatives were amalgamated into about 23,500 communes, each averaging 5,000 households, or 22,000 people” (Wikipedia Free Encyclopedia); (Satya J. Gabriel, 1998). The Chinese “Great Leap Forward” plan established an innovative socioeconomic communal or collective farm system dominated mostly by people in the Chinese countryside. The Chinese achieved local food self-sufficiency under the innovative cooperative farming system and soon emerged as key exporters of food products to other nations. Liberia could emulate the Chinese example since most Liberian farmers also lived in the Liberian countryside as their Chinese counterparts.

The Way Forward

With only a little over three million people, Liberia might not need 10 years like the Chinese to achieve food self-sufficiency, if the new political leadership of Liberia would only make agricultural production a national priority and rally the Liberian people to the cause. I believe that one of the most effective ways to reduce hunger and future civil disturbance in Liberia is to improve agricultural productivity with what we have and not what we hope we have. When the rest of the world sees how serious we are to curtail our dependency on other nations for our basic food supplies by producing our own food, we are likely to attract the world’s attention in a positive way that might lead to assistance in modern farm tools and equipment to improve our own indigenous farming technologies. And, like James Allen once said, “No one can help a weak person unless the weak person is willing to be helped.” Certainly, no one can help rebuild Liberia but Liberians. So, a national agricultural production program that pulls together the human and economic resources of the Liberian people might not only lead to increased food production and reductions in the rates of poverty and unemployment, but might also attract international goodwill in the forms of the donation of modern farming tools and implements.

Because food security is important for the national growth and development of any country, the fourth Liberian republic must commit to a long-term agricultural development program duly sanctioned through legislative enactment, and supported by the executive branch of government. In other words, a national policy geared toward food self-sufficiency through a return to the soil would be the first step to eliminating Liberia’s current dependence on foreign food imports for daily consumption by the Liberian people. But we must return to soil the strategically and not blindly. We need to test the soil in each of the 15 political subdivisions of Liberia and plant only those crops that will net the best and maximum yields in each county, whether our goal is to produce rice, cassava, eddoes, potatoes, or cocoa. These are food stuffs that Liberians know and can trust their children lives on for survival. Asking our nation to replace its indigenous crops with imported beans amounted to asking them to risk their children lives on a new crop which taste and care are foreign to our people. In other words, these kinds of suggestions or impositions are the result of lack of self-sufficiency and dependency.

The 100,000-plus former combatants from Liberia’s 14-year civil war (IRIN) and other unemployed Liberians could be trained as farmers and sent to specialty farms in each political subdivision as a way to prevent loitering, begging, street crimes by former combatants and other unemployed persons. Hence, there is no need to change our staple food with beans when we have surplus of manpower.

We need to take seriously the idea that food production is a must in Liberia so we can not only feed ourselves, but so we can also redirect current resources spent on food inputs to other pressing socio-economic development projects such as the construction of farm-to-market roads, schools, and clinics throughout Liberia. Our national leaders and we cannot continue to pay lip service to food production in Liberia, while wishing otherwise. And I think Mr. Geepu Nah Tiepoh clearly made the argument for increased food production in Liberia when he wrote in Blinded by Free Trade and Comparative Advantage Dogma, that “Most students of Liberia's modern economic history, perhaps with the exception of our critic, are aware that successive Liberian governments, since at least the early 1970s, have to different degrees embarked upon a strategy of rice self-sufficiency. Under its 1976-1980 National Socio-Economic Plan, the Tolbert government, for example, introduced and pursued this policy option. The Doe government also made similar efforts in the 1980s. About a year ago, Taylor gave his most vocal support yet to this strategy when he accused Liberians of being "too lazy" to produce their own food, and threatened that "anyone who wanted to eat imported rice would pay more for it" (Star Radio Liberia Daily News Bulletin, 24 October 1999).


As Mr. Tiepoh implied in the excerpts quoted above, too much lip-service regarding agricultural production in Liberia has yielded no tangible results, so the new national leaders in Liberia after the 2005 elections will have to show concrete actions through commitment to a realistic national food production program. I believe for agricultural production to succeed in Liberia, our leaders must focus on the urgency to return to old era of self-sufficiency. Our nation has the capability to feed herself as in the past, but we need a leader who will make agricultural production a national priority and who will rally the nation to such endeavor. The government could partner with private Liberians to set up national farming plantations and factories that will grow and produce rice, eddoes, potatoes, plantains, oranges, grapefruits, pawpaws, guavas, bananas, pineapples and other food crops for local consumption and export.

In addition, the government needs to institute direct buy or “special” payment program to farmers for their produce, as a way of encouraging Liberian farmers to produce more crops. The government should also provide direct subsidy to Liberian farmers in the form of low interest loan program to encourage the production of farm products. These proposals are not so difficult to implement if Liberia has the right national leadership that understands that economic modernization, political triumph and social movement require the goodwill and cooperation of all classes of Liberian people. And because the key to food self-sufficiency in Liberia is a strong and committed political leadership, the following administrative actions must be heeded as a matter of urgency in any national drive towards food or agricultural production in Liberia:

· Establishment of 4th Republic National Farms for cassava, plantain, eddoes, potatoes, pineapples, grapefruits, oranges, guava, pawpaw, plum, bananas
· Government to purchase the food from the farmers as a mean of encouragement
· Technology to prolong the lives of harvested crops and produce
· Creating and supporting science and technology at the national universities and colleges to improve the welfare of all people through agricultures
· Research program at the nation higher institutions of learning to enhance the management of our nation’s rich biological heritage
· Plan and develop five to 10- year programs for national livestock production
· Government to develop and contract an environmental friendly technology to increase cold water fish and crabs population
· National plan to encourage blacksmiths in conjunction with the University of Liberia School of Engineering/Technology to produce small farm instrument to be sold on Liberian markets to reduce dependency on imported Chinese machetes, axes, knives, etc. Such a national plan could provide a reciprocal benefits: employment and the beginning of a national industry

Our nation is in urgent need of the creative talents of all her sons and daughters. We must therefore call for an end to continuing dependency on other nations for production of our staple food and other agricultural products, which is a source for outsiders disrespecting us because they control our stomach. It has been said through history that dependence on agriculture knows no boundaries. Our nation should not erect that boundary. Kwi or country, wealthy or poor, boy or girl, young and old, agriculture is the lifeline of our country that supports us all. An understanding of agriculture is imperative for the socio-economic and political well-being of every Liberian. Our nation has the soil and natural habitats for ample agricultural activities leading to reasonable, safe and plentiful food supplies, clothing and shelter, poultries, plants, and animals, and natural resources for recreation, companionship and aesthetic value.

>>>Other articles by Syrulwa Somah, Ph.D.

Syrulwa Somah, Ph.D., is an Associate Tenured Professor of Environmental and Occupational Safety and Health at NC A&T State University in Greensboro, North Carolina. He is author of several books, including, The Historical Resettlement of Liberia and Its Environmental Impact, Christianity, Colonization and State of African Spirituality, and Nyanyan Gohn-Manan: History, Migration & Government of the Bassa (a book about traditional Bassa leadership and cultural norms published in 2003). Somah is also the Executive Director of the Liberian History, Education & Development, Inc. (LIHEDE), a nonprofit organization based in Greensboro, North Carolina. He can be reached at:;

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