Dr. Charles van Santen

About the author  


The pictorial story of: “The rural economy –Lofa County in the 1970’s” is based on the slide collection from Dr. Charles van Santen, taken during his assignment from 1970 to 1974 as the agricultural economist of the Rice Cultivation Project in Liberia, FAO/UNDP-Food and Agriculture Organization for the United Nations Development Program.

The objective of the project was to support GOL’s - the Government of Liberia’s rural development program to open up the interior Districts of Liberia. The FAO UNDP Rice Project included eight resident agricultural specialists, in soils, land development, agricultural mechanization, rice agronomy, economics, extension, cooperative development. The project was to support GOL’s pilot irrigated rice cultivation schemes. Seven rice development schemes had been established by GOL in cooperation with the rice agronomy specialists of the Chinese Agricultural Mission of Taiwan to Liberia (CAM), but needed further assistance. The largest of these pilot schemes was the Foya Pilot Rice Cultivation Scheme-The Foya Scheme- in Upper Lofa County, North West of Liberia, which was started in 1969.

In the early 1970s, hardly any systematic data and information were available on physical and socio-economic aspects of traditional farming in Lofa County and neighboring districts. At that time, GOL was planning to establish extensive regional development programs in these northern counties to open up the interior of the country. To finance these programs GOL aimed at obtaining loans from the World Bank and other international funding agencies. It goes without saying that loan requests to international funding agencies require detailed information on the physical and socio-economic situation in the proposed project areas.
The FAO Project therefore, was asked to obtain this information. As the project’s agricultural economist it was van Santen’s task to collect the socio-economic information. This implied conducting socio-economic baseline surveys to describe traditional agriculture and indicate opportunities for agricultural development. The initial study was to be conducted in Foya, Upper Lofa County.

Foya was the centre town in the area of the Kissi, a tribe of which about 30 000 persons lived in Liberia, while a similar number of Kissi lived in the adjacent areas in Sierra Leona and Guinea. The Kissi have a distinct own culture and language and are known to consist of very active and ingenious traditional upland farmers.

For the purpose of the study van Santen stayed in Foya, Lofa County, in a project house from 1970 to 1972. Living in the area gave him an opportunity for intensive contacts with the local Kissi farming community. Later Gbarnga County was added to the study and for that part of the work van Santen stayed in the Agricultural Research Station in Suakoko, Gbarnga County, during 1973. For compilation of the study van Santen operated from Monrovia, the capital of Liberia, in close contact with senior staff from GOL, the United Nations Development Program and the World Bank Representative Office for Liberia from 1973 to 1974.

For the baseline socio-economic surveys van Santen visited the Kissi villages in the study area with experts James Checkor and James Shekey, and a team of field assistants. To collect the data from the farmers the team was walking many hours each day to reach the farmer respondents. In those days most villages could only be reached on foot, as no motor-accessible roads were yet available in the early 1970s. The team interviewed a large number of farmers, measured the size of upland rice farms, estimated yields of rice and other crops through crop cutting. For the market study the team counted the number of participants by activity and weighted and measured samples of most commodities, vessels, bags and other types of containers. The following studies were conducted:

  1. Traditional rural markets in Foya County.
  2. Traditional upland rice cultivation
  3. Traditional handicrafts and other non-farming activities.

The socio-economic team further collected data from following FAO Project activities:

  1. Small scale irrigated rice cultivation
  2. Large scale irrigated rice cultivation
  3. Improved upland rice cultivation
  4. Large scale mechanized rice cultivation
  5. Secondary crops in rotation with rice

After completion of these studies, van Santen combined this information with the findings of the FAO colleagues responsible for technical aspects of rice cultivation. The resulting pre-feasibility study was entitled: “Selected Economic Aspects of Expanding Rice Production in Liberia”. Later the study was to become the base for a regional rural development program for the north western districts of Liberia, which was ultimately financed by the World Bank with a US$ 30 million soft loan.

Van Santen's houses and guests in Liberia


Van Santen's houses and guests in Liberia


Visitors of this site, who are interested to view more of Charles' pictorial stories of his work and travels, are referred to his website. In this site Charles has uploaded a pictorial story of
his work in Iraq 1966-1969, which chapter will soon be followed by others. Also some pages on his other interests are available for a review.

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The rural economy
Lofa County 1970's
A pictorial story