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Liberia Livelihood Descriptions

  • Livelihood Description
  • Liberia
  • June 2017
Liberia Livelihood Descriptions

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  • Preface

  • Preface

    This exercise was a verification of the livelihood zoning that was conducted under the aegis of the Regional Centre for Training and Applications in Agrometeorology and Operational Hydrology (AGRHYMET), a specialized institution of CILSS (the Permanent Inter-State Committee for Drought Control in the Sahel), and the Ministry of Agriculture of Liberia in late 2016. The 2016 workshop included participation from experts in Monrovia rather than those currently working at the county level; therefore it was recommended that a separate activity be scheduled to verify zone boundaries. The results of the livelihood zone verification exercise included in this report aimed to corroborate information from the 2016 livelihood zone update by including the participation of Ministry of Agriculture county representatives. In addition to the county-level experts, FEWS NET invited representatives from the Food and Agriculture Organization, the World Food Programme and Food for Peace Officers from USAID.

    The national livelihood mapping and zoning verification workshop in Liberia was held from April 17 through 19, 2017 in Monrovia. This report draws heavily from both the report produced by AGRHYMET in 2016 and the 2010 report produced by FEWS NET.
    The overall objective of this activity aims to improve the understanding of rural livelihoods and to identify vulnerabilities to shocks according to geographical location, thereby constituting a sampling framework for future analyses based on livelihoods. This report presents the findings of the zoning workshop and includes both the national zoning map, brief descriptions of each zone, seasonal and access calendars and an account of the map construction process.

    The two geographically prominent kinds of livelihood zone – rice dominant and cassava dominant – reflect a fundamental ecological divide in the country. This is between the coastal plain and the elevation of the interior up to the borders with Guinea and Ivory Coast. Apart from a couple of high ridges, the elevation is mostly below 500 meters above sea level, but it is enough to tip Liberia into a general slope across which the major drainage of the country runs, many of the major rivers originating in the highlands of southern Guinea and finally issuing into the Atlantic at points along the Liberian coast. Cassava is grown in greatest volume on the coastal plain, whilst rice (virtually all rain-fed or in swampland rather than irrigated) dominates the higher hinterland. However, between the north-west, center and the south-east there are sufficient differences in the crop production scene to warrant a division of the main rice areas into three zones. But it has to be said that in comparison to the dramatic ecological differences within other countries, e.g. the high mountain to low rangeland of Kenya and Ethiopia, or the Sahara sands to savannah/Guinean vegetation in Sahel countries, Liberia has only moderate variation in ecology, rainfall patterns and hazards. We have settled on nine zones (including the periphery of Monrovia itself) by emphasizing certain special features of areas which nevertheless all sit squarely on the base economy of rice-with-cassava or cassava-with-rice. On the other hand, that difference in the base economy is strong enough for it not to be masked by the fact that Liberia is a heavy net importer of staple rice, and the consumption of imported rice, rather than being confined essentially to an urban population, is part of the diet of rural people across the country.

    Apart from climatic or ecological differences, a major element in distinguishing economic areas is their relative access to the Monrovia market, which inter alia encourages local rice sales in the northern half of the country. That market represents the demand of as much as one-third of the national population for farm produce, fish, goods, and even labor. The Rubber and Charcoal LZ 8 exists precisely because a) rubber plantations were situated on land not too far from the port and b) the nearby city demand for charcoal particularly favors the road-oriented population who have access to abandoned rubber trees. At the other end of the country, South-East Rice (LZ 3) is largely defined by its isolation from Monrovia and the resulting absence of marketing opportunities. There is no paved road towards the capital along which goods can easily be moved, and indeed local villages are cut off even from local centers during the rains.

    Given that some combination of rice and cassava cultivation is ubiquitous, it is sometimes secondary products that distinguish a livelihood zone. In the hunting zone (LZ 6) the people are actually essentially farmers by vocation, even often nearly self-sufficient in food. But the income from bushmeat is considered important enough and distinctive enough to justify making this a separate zone. Once again Monrovia is an important market for this product, at least in dried form. Though we do not have an inland fishing zone for the same reason, it is not because fishing is insignificant but because it is widespread across the rivers and creeks of the entire coastal plain and beyond. There is no particular area of any size with an intensive inland fishing economy. Hunting is also widespread around the country, but in the forested areas that are combined as the hunting zone, the resource and its profits are far above average. By the same token, sea fish earnings by people on and near the coast are far more fundamental to the livelihoods of coastal villages than inland fishing is to the villages of the cassava belt (LZ 4), and so the coastal fishing zone (LZ 5) has been distinguished.

    But it is not always an easy matter to decide whether a certain form of production or income should generate a separate zone. There is some temptation to compromise by creating sub-zones, although that was avoided by the workshop participants, who created the draft livelihood map together. This is fortunate, because sub-zones can easily become a step along the road to recognizing numerous localized differences, so that a quite unwieldy map of thirty or forty “zones” would replace the map of ten.
    Surface gold mining, and to a lesser extent diamond mining, are found in many localities across the country. But there are certain areas of concentration, and six large areas were proposed in the workshop to be combined as a mining-plus-food-crops livelihood zone separate from the rice-dominant zones. The verification exercise brought mixed information as to the importance of mining to ordinary rural households as opposed to a minority who may invest most of their available labor to mining work, joining numerous immigrants at mining camps.

    Livelihood Zone Description accompanies a zone map, briefly describing the main characteristics of the livelihood patterns in that zone. The maps and descriptions, which identify relevant variables by geography, are useful in informing the development of monitoring systems.

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