Liberia is a unique case of external invasion and internal tribal expansion. The tribes from the Sudan region, far east of Liberia expanded westward and drove many smaller ethnic groups southward towards the Atlantic ocean. Some of those people wound up in the Liberian uplands. In the nineteenth century a group of American freed slaves, known as the Americo-Liberians established themselves along the Atlantic coast of Liberia. The Americo-Liberians became the dominant political force in Liberia.
Farming has played a large part in how these people supported themselves. There are a variety of natural resources in Liberia that form the foundation of an industrial economy, but that portion of the larger economy is small. Agriculture represents 77 percent of Liberia’s GDP, while industry represents less than 6 percent. Liberia has a population of a little over 4 million people and a labor force of about 1.4 million people. Of that labor force, 70 percent are involved in agriculture. Unfortunately the agriculture is simple primitive farming that has low yield and keeps over 80 percent of the Liberian population in poverty.
The original commodity crop in Liberia was pepper, of which there are many natural varieties, but most Liberian farmers use primitive farming techniques. The “brush rotation” method of shifting cultivation is practiced. The farmer clears up to five acres of wild forest or low brush every year and then cultivates it lightly using hand tools. The crops are cassava and rice for the dietary mainstay and a small group of other grains and vegetables.
Liberia is just north of the equator, so the climate is hot and humid. There is a rain forest and many rivers run from the uplands southwest to the Atlantic coast. There is a rainforest in the uplands and forest soils, while well drained, are heavily leached. Liberia’s soils are generally better adapted to tree-crop agriculture than to field crop production. There is one area where the soil is best suited for a variety of crops and that area is located outside of the capital, Monrovia.
There is a natural rubber industry that flourishes, but it only represents a small portion of farming and is done on plantations owned by tire companies. The primary export crops produced by small-plot farmers are coffee, oil palm nuts, sugarcane, and fruits. The production levels are very modest due to the simple farming methods used to raise these crops. While sugarcane and cassava are raised abundantly enough to satisfy domestic needs, rice and wheat are not produced in large enough volume to satisfy local needs.
Founded in 1908, the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) have received material and training assistance from the United States. Civil war and government mismanagement have destroyed much of Liberia’s economy, and damaged the agricultural sector as well. At this point, there are over 6,500 United Nations peace keeping troops in Liberia which helps abate civil unrest, although there are still Liberian refugees scattered in the other countries of western Africa.
From 1989 to 1996 Liberian Civil War among various ethnic factions became one of Africa’s bloodiest conflicts. In 1995 a peace deal was brokered that brought one of the combatant leaders, Charles Taylor, to the presidency in 1997. A second Liberian Civil War began in 1999 when a rebel group in the northwest of Liberia launched armed insurrection against Taylor. The war dragged on for the next three years until the United Nations Mission in Liberia began arriving. By August of 2003 heavy pressure from the international community and the Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace movement forced Charles Taylor to resign and go into exile.
In 2005 Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was free elected president and began a Reconciliation Commission to address the causes and crimes of the civil war. The Armed Forces of Liberia generally display a low level of effectiveness, which is largely why UN peacekeeping troops remain in place. The Liberian military is not capable of protecting farm land from turning into battlefields in conflicts between Liberia’s many different ethnic groups. The potential for a resumption of civil war remains. Liberia’s agricultural cycle, like everything else in Liberia is heavily dependent upon outside international forces to produce the peace that agricultural production requires.