Before the civil war, agriculture was the main source of livelihood for the great majority of Liberians. Except on plantations operated by foreign concessionaires and wealthy Liberians, farming techniques are primitive. The "bush rotation" system of shifting cultivation is followed, in which the farmer clears up to two ha (5 acres) of wild forest or low bush each year, lightly cultivates it with crude hand tools, and plants rice or cassava as the rainy season begins. In 1999, agriculture engaged about 68% of the labor force on 4% of the total land area. Estimated production of field crops in 1999 included cassava, 313,000 tons; sugarcane, 250,000 tons; and rice, 210,000 tons. The government maintains a retail price ceiling on rice. Rice and wheat productions are insufficient to meet local needs.
The rain forest soils, while well drained, are strongly leached, making Liberia better adapted to tree-crop agriculture than to annual field-crop production. The major rubber, rice, coffee, cocoa, vegetable, and fruit producing areas lie outside of Monrovia. Rubber is the leading cash crop, with production in 1999 estimated at 35,000 tons. Before the war, six foreign-owned concessions produced over two-thirds of the rubber crop, with Firestone's Harbel plantation as the biggest in the world. Firestone ended its long association with Liberian rubber production with the sale of its interests to the Japanese-owned Bridgestone in 1988.
The principal export crops produced by small farmers are coffee, oil palm nuts, sugarcane, and fruits. Estimated production in 1999 was coffee, 3,000 tons; palm oil, 42,000 tons; and palm kernels, 11,000 tons. Banana production came to 90,000 tons; plantains, 35,000 tons. In 2001, Liberia had an agricultural trade surplus of $14 million.