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Farm surveys  


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.

Designing surveys
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 sizes.

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.

Crop cutting
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 rice plot.
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 people.

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


Charles van Santen
December 2005

The rural economy
Lofa County 1970s
A pictorial story