In 2018, at the launch ceremony of the Liberia Cocoa Sector Improve Programme (LICSIP) in Bong County, struggling farmers from the cocoa sectors, along with officials from the Government of Liberia, the European Union and other development partners aligned their vision and efforts to one cause, the cause to revive then the dying cocoa sector.
The four-year program (2018-2022) is under the EU-Liberia Agriculture Program, which is part of the 2014-2020 National Indicative Program (NIP) for the 11th European Development Fund.
LICSIP promises a vibrant, competitive and profitable cocoa economy driven by farmers’ organizations and private cocoa supply chain, within a robust national regulatory and institutional framework. Additional activities under the progrm have been the transfer of contemporary methodologies and hybrid-cocoa to 5,000 farmers as part of efforts to rehabilitate aged cocoa farms in Nimba, Lofa and Bong Counties.
This year, LICSIP is already benefiting 2,480 farmers form seedlings and agro-inputs distributions, an addition to 874 farmers from last year. In Bleyeapea, Nimba County, farmers are embracing the future with certainty.
Rufus Karha, a 28 year-old beneficiary, is attending to 450 cocoa-trees on a one-acre plot, where he intends to raise proceeds to take care of his immediate family.
Rufus, who spoke to a group of journalists during a two-day site visit in Nimba and Bong counties, lauded Solidaridad and partners for the introduction of hybrid cocoa.
“The new cocoa that they gave me are good. The old cocoa sometimes take seven years before they can start producing but the new [hybrid cocoa] take only three years. I will not wait like before” Rufus said.
Besides the introduction of improved cocoa varieties to Liberia, cocoa farmers are also instructed according to the “Good Agriculture Practices (GAP)” under the Solidaridad’s newly-launched Cocoa Rehabilitation and Intensification Programme (CORIP), one of the programs funded by the Embassy of the Netherlands in Ghana.
Through the CORI-programme, farmers in Bong, Lofa, and Nimba counties are receiving technical skills on cocoa production, ranging from nursery preparation to post-harvesting practices.
Bengleh Gbongulou, one of the beneficiaries of CORIP, is absorbing every skill from the Farmers’ Field Schools (FFSs) that Solidaridad has established.
“My late husband and I never knew that when weeds (unwanted plants) take over cocoa trees they cannot produce well. Later, when Solidaridad came, they showe us some techniques to manage our cocoa; we did all they told us and [currently] my farm is not [overcrowded] with bush,” Said Gbongulou.
According to the Cocoa Programme Manager of Solidaridad-Liberia, Boima Bafaie, the organization in 2019 has established 80 FFs in Bong, Lofa, and Nimba counties.
Moreover, the Dutch-based non-governmental organization, since its launch in Liberia, has been collaborating with other development partners and the Government of Liberia to ensure that the cocoa sector has a national-framework that reflects every actor in the sector.
As a result, a workable policy-framework was activated recently in Nimba County where stakeholders in the cocoa and coffee sectors concluded a two-day “Cocoa and Coffee Policy Validation Workshop”.
The revised policy ensures the liberation of trade among actors, something that stakeholders including producers, local buyers, and exporters have lauded.
Similarly, in the oil palm sectors, Solidaridad has made a stretch to address several problems challenging yields-rate in the sector.
On June 14, 2019, Solidaridad launched the “Sustainable West Africa Oil Palm Programme (SWAPP)” with the purpose to address problems ranging from old-aged farms to best practice delivery.
Since the launch of SWAPP, the organization has been working with Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) on the development of 40,000 seedling nurseries in Karnplay and Cooper Village in Nimba County; Foya in Lofa County and Bellemu in Panta District, Bong County.
Solidaridad-Liberia’s Oil Palm Programme Manager, J. Cyrus Saygbe Sr., told reporters during the second day of the site-tour that SMEs collaborating with Solidaridad through a co-financing mechanism, are making seedlings available to smallholder farmers at a minimum price.
Sylvester Kpai of the Kpailama Agro-business Enterprise, runs one of the four commercial nurseries. He grows ten-thousand improved seedlings, a growth he has attributed to Solidaridad’s SWAPP intervention.
“We are very grateful to Solidaridad. They have transformed our investment from three-thousand seedlings to ten-thousand seedlings. If we reinvest in this work, I am sure that we can [improve on this] in the next five to ten years,” said Kpai.
Kpai’s enterprise is also enjoying a drip-irrigation system, a technological boost that has accelerated proficiency on his farm.
“Before we had twenty-people watering the seedlings but that has been cut down to just two individuals. Their work now, is just to open the reservoir,” said Kpai.
Additionally, Solidaridad, the Liberian Government and other development partners are working to ensure that a roadmap plan is created in the oil palm sector, a working document similar to the cocoa policy.
The Daily Observer has learned that Solidaridad is also on the steering committee that is working on a National Oil Palm Strategy, a strategy believed to encourage increased production without damaging Liberia’s forests.