In 1970, when the UNDP FAO Rice development Project started there was no
systematic knowledge available on traditional dry-land and swamp or wetland
agriculture in the interior of Liberia. At that time the Government of Liberia,
GOL wanted to develop the interior of the country and help traditional farmers
to increase their income. Rice, the Liberian staple food was imported in large
quantities and GOL intended to start rural development with increasing the local
rice production. To implement Government intentions a development plan was
needed. The task of the FAO team was to collect the basic data needed to design
a development plan. The socio economic data to be collected by the team would
form the basis for the development plan, supplemented with technical information
on: soils, farm mechanization, agronomy, cooperatives and marketing.
To collect the basic data needed, a number of surveys were designed to describe
the traditional Liberian rural socio-economic situation, including surveys of
traditional- farming, markets and handicrafts and other non-farming home
industries. Data were obtained through observations, interviews and by
measurement of farm & labor inputs, yields, traditional containers and plot
Contacting farmer respondents
In the 1970s most Kissi farms could only be reached on foot. Each farm family
had its main dwelling in a small hamlet, consisting typically of 6 to 10 huts.
However, during the rice season, starting with land clearing till the rice
harvest about 8 months later most farmers lived in a hut near their farm plots.
Due to the shifting cultivation system these huts were relocated every 3 to 4
year. Most farm huts in the 1970s were only accessible on foot and a typical
survey day of me and my team might include a thirty minutes’ drive, four hours
of walking and four to five hours interviewing and measuring.
It was the team’s aim to interview the farmer respondent and his wife in private.
However, it was often unavoidable to start the interview with a meeting attended
by a number of the respondent’s neighbors. In these meetings local farming
methods and problems in the area were discussed, until the team could create an
opportunity to separate the respondent and his wife from their neighbors. In
most cases this could be achieved after some time by asking the farmer if we
could see his rice farm or his tree crop garden. Most neighbors did not want to
follow and we finally could start our actual interview with the respondent.
In 1970 there was no information available on levels of rice yields
in the interior districts of the country. The team therefore established a
system of crop cutting to determine basic levels of rice yield of the various
land races grown and the new rice varieties introduced by the rice development
project, mainly consisting of early IRRI (International Rice Research Institute
at the Philippines) varieties available in the early1970s.
In the selected upland rice plot in the middle part of the field three triangles
were set out at random, indicated by sticks connected by ropes, each measuring
100 sq feet or 11.2 sq meter. Every effort was taken to avoid selecting sample
plots near the edge of the field or near remaining trees or tree stumps. As
already mentioned in the description of traditional upland rice farming, this is
in fact a farming system whereby rice is intercropped with small quantities of
vegetables and fruits, which crops are often harvested before the main rice
harvest. Cassava and banana intercrops are the exception, as these crops have a
longer average growing period as compared with rice. In selecting the sample
triangles, care was taken that no banana or cassava plants were included. The
sample triangles therefore, only included areas with pure stands of rice plants.
If possible the sticks and ropes needed to mark the three sample plots were
placed in the field one day before the farmer intended to start harvesting his
On the harvest day all rice panicles within the three sample triangles were
harvested in the traditional method, with a small rice knife. After harvesting
the rice was threshed by feet and purchased from the farmer at the market price
and carried to the team’s base camp. In the team's headquarters the rice was sun
dried till the moisture percentage was at the officially accepted 13 % relative
humidity for rough rice, which is rice that is not yet husked. Subsequently the
weight of the sample was taken and the yield per ha calculated. The rough rice
yield per hectare was subsequently converted into milled rice at a milling rate
of 67 %, the average milling rate, established for hand pounding or hand milling
in Foya County. In other cases a grain moisture meter was used in the harvested
field to determine the moisture percentage of the rice samples. This was done in
particular when the farmer’s field was far from the base camp and in this case
the harvested rice was returned to the farmer.
Testing the crop cutting method
To test the accuracy of our crop cutting method, the team conducted a test and
measured the entire rice harvest of two sample plots of one acre (0.42hectare).
The entire rice harvested from these fields was threshed, the moisture
percentage taken, weighed and converted into rough rice at 13% relative humidity.
The findings of the test of the crop cutting method were that the actual rice
yield was over-estimated with an average of 10%. Subsequently all rice yields,
calculated by our team, were corrected with a reduction of 10%. These findings
of an over-estimation through crop cutting were also observed by Hunt in his
monograph: Agricultural Statistics for Developing Countries.
In general the Kissi farmer stores the bulk of his rice harvest in the attic of
his rice storage or “rice kitchen”, still in the husk. This custom is used to
avoid pest and disease attacks. Each day the farm family threshes only the
particular amount of rice needed for that day’s family consumption. Threshing
all the rice of a particular upland rice farm would not have been acceptable to
an average farm family. The team was therefore grateful that for testing our
crop cutting method, it was kindly allowed to use two rice plots owned by Tamba
Tailor, the Kissi Paramount Chief.
Traditional rice landraces
Some genetic specialists identified one of the local Kissi rice landraces as
Oryza liberica, which would thus be a separate sub species and indicate that the
West Coast of Africa was a secondary genetic centre for rice. Regardless the
accuracy of this hypothesis the team identified during the survey a number of
landraces, each with distinct different characteristics regarding length of
growing season, average panicle length, height of plant stature and taste. The
dominant characteristic was the length of the growing season, varying from three
and a half months to over 7 months. Farmers called the 3.5 months short land
races: the hungry season rice. The hungry season is the period before the main
rice harvest, when the farmers have run out of rice stock and are forced to eat
cassava and other root crops to survive. Harvesting these short duration rice
land races helps to bridge the gap till the main season. Other land races, with
a special sweet taste, were called pregnant women rice, while land races with a
growing season of seven months were called harvest-festival rice, as these types
of rice were ready for harvest during the harvest festival period of the Kissi
Rice yield levels.
Traditional upland rice yields varied between 1300 kg to 2000 kg of unhusked
rough rice per hectare for land-races with a seven months’ growing season.
Yields of short duration varieties measured about 50% of these yield levels,
with typically 700 kg un-husked rice per ha. Traditional swamp rice yields
varied between 2000 and 2400 kg of rough rice per ha for traditional landraces
with a seven months’ growing season.
Slideshow Farm surveys
The rural economy
Lofa County 1970s
A pictorial story