Smallholder Rice Seed Development Project (1989)

Completion evaluation

Liberia lies almost entirely within the tropical rain forest zone. The average population density is about 20 hab/km2. The annual rainfall ranges from 1600 mm inland to 4600 mm on the coast. Much of the vegetation is secondary forest because of the shifting cultivation system of farming in the uplands areas. The annual crop fallow cycles still permit regeneration of the forest in most areas (between 5 and 15 years of fallow). Rice is the main staple crop with about 86% of the farmers growing it. Cassava is often intermixed with rice in upland areas. Coffee, cocoa and sugarcane are important cash crops. Social and cultural values are linked to cash (cash requirement for rites such as deaths, marriage, sacrifices,...). It explains that economic farming activities are directed towards those lucrative crops. Self suficiency in rice production has, for several years, been a major policy goal of the Liberian Governement.

Project objectives and design

Target group

The target group is constituited by 91.400 households of smallholder rice farmers (58% of the total of such households)

Project objectives and components

The principal objective of the projcet was to institute a national rice seed improvement programme, and, through the provision of improved seed varieties, to increase the rice production efficiency of smallholder farmers.

The principal components of the project were:

  • the Rice Seed Production Unit (RSPU) that would be provided with the necessary facilities and equipment to multiply, dry, process, store and distribute improved rice seed;
  • credit in both kind and cash to contract seed outgrowers;
  • training and equipping of specifically assigned Ministry of Agriculture staff to carry out the project's extension activities;
  • local and overseas training for the project's local staff;
  • the establishment of a Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E) Unit for p_oject activities;
  • the provision of consultant services to assist in the implementation, development and monitoring and evaluation of the project.

Two channels were to be used for seed distribution: the Agricultural Development Projects (ADPs) where these existed; and extension staff of the Ministry of Agriculture (MOA) assigned to the project, where ADPs did not operate.

Expected effects and assumptions

At full development (following year 7), the project was expected to reach 91.400 farmers, and the total area under the new varieties was expected to level off at 83.900 ha, from project year nine onwards. The use of the improved varieties was expected to result in an incremental rice production of 343 tons in year 3 of the project, rising to 4.000 tons in year 5, and levelling off at 16.800 tons from year 10 onwards. For participating farmers, farm income was expected to increase from 238 to 316 USD/yr in the case of upland farmers and from 102 to 165 USD/yr in the case of swamp farmers.

The project design rested on a number of key assumptions. These were: (a) that the Central Agricultural Research Institute (CARI) would provide breeder seed of high quality, and in the requisite quantity, and that the project would stimulate further rice breeding and testing activities at CARI; (b) that CARI was committed to a programme of continually seeking better upland and swamp rice varieties; and (c) that the staff of the MOA assigned to the project would not only be instrumental in promoting the use of project seed, but that they would also ensure an equitable exchange of paddy for seed, and would further help farmers improve their level of agricultural husbandry.


The evaluation reviewed the overall farming system to study the effects of improved rice seed within these systems. The baseline survey proved to be of little use; data was collected using the rural rapid rural appraisal technique and additional data was assembled during the course of further meetings and discussions with associated ministries and organizations.

Implementation context

In 1986, the gouvernement launched the green revolution programme as a means of reinstating and restoring the vital role of agriculture as the motive force for economic development and sustained growth. The objectives range from the atainment of national self-sufficiency to making farming a profitable and attractive proposition especially to the nation's youth.

Project achievments

The Rice Seed Production Unit was established. The different activities were:

  • seed multiplication (LAC-23 and swamp variety) in 3 farms under the direct control of the project or with outgrower agreement. The project also has relied on contract outgrowers (groups of experienced smallholders) who were provided on credit with all necessary inputs.
  • seed production: purchases from outgrowers rose from 163 t in 1983 to 765 t in 1987 and 111 t in 1988. Most of the production concerns upland seed (711 t of upland seed and 53 t of swamp seed producted in 1987)
  • seed processing: the project established a modern seed processing plant at Suakoko with drying, cleaning and storage facilities. Seed is certified.
  • quality control: seed crops are inspected by menbers of the seed quality division at all stages during the growing season to ensure purity and freedom from pests and diseases.
  • distribution and sales of seed: distribution by Agricultural Development Projects, by seed exchange system (1 bag of seed for 2 bags of paddy), by use of seed retailers. The project distributed about 1.569 tons of upland and swamp seed.

The extension support component relied on the exchange system, the construction of 10 rice seed stores, the distribution of seeds through the various conty crop extension services.

The training proposals outlined in project design were fulfilled satisfactorily.

The project was unsuccessful in establishing an effective M&E Unit. This unit was only able to complete the baseline survey 45 months after the start of the project, and only then with a major input from the Central Monitoring and Evaluation Unit of MOA. In addition to this survey, the unit produced only a few minor studies, which, because of untimeliness of presentation, were of little use to project management.

Effects assessment and sustainability

Beneficiaries: the farmers who obtained SRSP seed were indeed smallholders (about 16.670 farm families) but there were also indications that, in general, the poorest farmers were not being reached. One of the main reasons for this is the inability of the poorer farmers to pay cash for seed and the unavailability of credit. Another has been the failure of the distribution system in reaching these farmers. The ADPs tended to concentrate on the larger farmers, as did most of the crop extension workers operating in non-ADP areas.

The effects of seed on yields, production and household income are difficult to evaluate because of the failure of the M&E unit. We can assume that we have a 200 kg/ha higher yield of LAC-23 and a yield advantage of 1.000 kg for swamp rice.

Effects on beneficiaries incomes: the effect of the introduction of LAC-23 on household income is slight, being in the order of 5.3%. This rise to 11% in the case of swamp rice but the effect is reduce because relatively small areas of swamp are cultivated.

Effects on nutrition and food security:

Specific effects on women:

Effects on the environment:

Effects on local/national economic development trends: an analysis of the operating costs shows that the economic cost of seed production could never be covered and that seed production was heavily subsidized. This implies that the Liberian economy must suffer economic losses according to every kilogram of seed produced by the project.

Sustainability: Compared to the returns from alternative crops, increased production of LAC-23 is not justified. Swamp rice shows greater returns but increased production is constrained by the farmers' reluctance to work in the swamps. Therefore, the outlook for radically increased production of rice is not promising.

Despite its various problems, the project has demonstrated an ability to produce adequate quantities of good quality seed rice and the RSPU now constitute the nucleus of a future seed industry. However, it would probably take another five years of development for the unit to even approach a state of self-sustainability. In view of Liberia's financial constraints, there is little likelihood of Government of Liberia (GOL) being able to sustain the present level of RSPU operations. Apart from present constraints on operating costs, the unit will face increasing logistical and operational problems as vehicles and plant age and breakdown. This will lead first to stagnation then to a fairly rapid decline in seed production.

Main issues and recommandations

Some variance with the SAR assumptions

The general assumption that every farmer grows rice, and that rice is the predominant crop in Liberia is incorrect. Because of unattractive produce prices, farmers only grow rice for subsistence purposes but will switch out of rice production into other crops such as sugarcane, cassava and treecrops to raise cash for household and other family needs, including the many obligatory ceremonies associated with deaths, marriages, initiation and circumcision. This situation can continue for one or two years during which time rice is purchased. Rice is, therefore, only one, and not always the most important crop in the farming system. The discontinuity of rice cultivation is at variance with the staff appraisal report (SAR) assumption that farmers would use seed for three successive generations. Indeed, some farmers purchase SRSP seed every year.

Problems in implementation

Development was adversely affected by factors outside the project management's direct control. There were shortcomings in the genetic material provided by CARI, both in terms of purity and adherence to type, and, in the case of upland varieties, their superiority over traditional varieties. For over 25 years, improved upland rice production has been based on two varieties, LAC-23 Red and LAC-23 White (genetically similar varieties), which have only a marginal yield advantage over traditional upland varieties. CARI also failed to supply the project with the requisite amounts of seed, supplying on average less than 50% of the amounts requested in any year.

The project suffered a serious setback in 1987/88 because of inadequate GOL funding which resulted in a damaging loss of outgrowers' confidence through the project's inability to make timely payment for the 1987 certified seed.

The proposed exchange system was not effective. It involved a system of free credit, a post-harvest payment for seed was made on the basis of a 1:1 exchange ratio (paddy for seed), later raised to 2:1 to defray some of the high costs involved in delivery and collection of seed and paddy. It was also subject to extensive abuse, as farmers often mixed considerable amounts of inert matter with the returned paddy, or failed to return any operation, the project stopped the exchange system in 1988 and the seconded extension workers reverted to normal field duties.

Unsatisfactory utilisation of the M&E Unit

From the very beginning, little confidence was displayed by project management in the M&E Unit. The baseline survey proved to be too demanding a task for the inexperienced unit resulting in serious delay in the implementation of the survey. The work of the Unit never became a tool of project management. Projcet management received most of its information directly from the divisional officers. There was a genuine lack of understanding within the project on the fonction and role of the M&E system.

In view of the project's overall success to date; its efforts to overcome defects and shortcomings; and the vital need for a viable seed industry in Liberia, there appears to be justification for continued support by IFAD to assist the project, under a modified approach, to develop the present unit into a near self-sustaining and effective organization. Such support would be condition upon several vital assurances from GOL and a restructuring of the present organization, namely:

(a) GOL should ensure that the National Seed Committee is fully activated to fulfill the role originally expected of it;

(b) GOL should ensure that the Research Technical Committee is reactivated to provide adequate guidance for the research programmes;

(c) CARI should be strengthened as necessary to permit reliable field trials of promising upland rice varieties to be held under farm conditions;

(d) WARDA should take positive action to introduce additional new upland varieties from other rice growing countries and should arrange for field testing of these by CARI;

(e) Seed should only be sold for cash unless seasonal credit can be arranged through sources other than the RSPU;

(f) Distribution of seed should be privatized as quickly as possible and should have provision for reaching the poorer farmers;

(g) A new project seed farm of about 350 hectares should be established to centralize multiplication of rice foundation seed and seed of other crops where demand exists;

(h) The M&E Unit should be restructured to serve as an effective tool of management;

(i) Self-sustainability of the RSPU should be the long-term objective, and the operations and structure of the unit would need to be critically reviewed to determine how best production costs could be cut without jeopardizing quality.

It is hoped that GOL's ongoing review of Liberia's food situation will result in a more attractive price structure for rice, leading in turn to increased demand for improved rice seed. Indeed, consideration could be given to withholding further support until the time that the price structure becomes more conductive to increased rice production.

Lessons learned

Experience in many developing country has shown that even major extension support project can fail to bring about substantial improvment in performance in chronic situation.

In view of the importance of an effective M&E Unit to any project, it is advisable to ensure that the initial calibre of staffing is high, even to the extent of employing long-term international technical assistance. The use of short term consultants is an expensive and largely futile means of propping up an inadequately qualified and experienced unit. Beneficiary contact monitoring should be recommanded above monitoring of project effects.

The normal procurement organizations and systems are in most countries bureaucratic and time-consuming. The benefits of direct procurements are immense in terms of staff time, early delivery, savings in cost, and, not least, in the avoidance of frustration and its associated impairment of relationships with implementing ministries.



22 April 1989