— amid bill for sole exporter right to LACRA, stakeholders say such a bill would put the sector in a regressive mode
A cross section of cocoa stakeholders have frowned on attempts from lawmakers to amend the “Act” establishing the Liberia Agricultural Commodities Regulatory Authority (LACRA).
The Act, if amended, would see LACRA becoming a sole exporter with right stature to export cocoa and coffee while current exporters function as local buying agents.
This, the president of the Liberia National Cocoa and Coffee Exporters Association (LINACEA), Sheikh A. Turay has warned that when amended, the act could put the cocoa and coffee sectors in a regressive position.
“It will reverse the course of gains made so far in the sectors,” said Turay. “We call on our lawmakers not to allow this bill because it is contradictory to the Pro-Poor Agenda for Prosperity and Development, and also contrary to inclusive competitive business.”
Turay’s remarks were made at a recent roundtable discussion initiated by the Cocoa Sector Platform. The event, which took place at a local resort at Mamba Point, Monrovia, brought together over 20 actors from across the cocoa and coffee sectors.
According to Turay, exporters have already impacted over 20,000 farmers and, at the same time, invested over 35 million dollars covering purchase, transport, warehouse construction and purchase of machineries.
However, the Director General of LACRA, Dr. John S. Flomo, Jr., has also expressed concerns about the underperformance of Liberian exporters.
According to him, Liberian exporters have only exported 4,000 tons out of the total 12,341 tons of cocoa exported between August of last year to present.
“From August of last year to present 12,341 tons of cocoa have been exported. Out of this, only 4,000 tons that Liberian exporters have exported. So I think by default we are already a monopoly sector,” said Dr. Flomo.
Also, the LACRA boss has dismissed rumors that his institution manipulated the amendment in the ACT.
He said that the House of Representatives proposed the change in the Act establishing LACRA. Moreover, Flomo said that LACRA is involved because it will be the institution implementing the amended ACT if it is passed.
The 2014 LACRA Act details the institution’s responsibilities to include licensing, administering and promoting agriculture exports trade, increasing agriculture productivity competitiveness, and environmental sustainability. Accordingly, LACRA shall also, among other things, license exporters and serve as advisory and dispute resolution body.
The Act, however, does not give LACRA the right to export or resume the responsibility of the defunct Liberia Produce Marketing Corporation (LPMC)
Nonetheless, LACRA’s boss has said that the bill, if passed, will curtail price inflation, cocoa and coffee smuggling and, at the same time, ensure that quality cocoa and coffee are exported from Liberia.
“It is about time that the Republic of Liberia takes ownership of its commodity and support people who are in the sector to make sure that this benefits our farmers. For us, the farmers are our concern,” he said.
But leading Lebanese cocoa exporter, Bassam Sidani, has frown on claims that exporters are marginalizing cocoa farmers in Liberia.
According to him, exporters are buying cocoa at a higher rate compared to Ivory Coast and Guinea. “Right now in these areas a ton of cocoa is US$1,300 and we in Liberia are buying a ton at a rate of US$1,900. We buy cocoa here at a very high rate, people here can attest to this. How are we marginalizing the farmers when we are even buying at a higher rate as compared to neighboring countries?”
Also, Representative Edward Kafia of District #9 in Bong County, who is a leading voice behind the bill to amend the establishing Act of LACRA, said that the amendment bill is being misinterpreted.
Rep. Kafia, who is also chairman on the Public Accounts Committee of the House of Representatives, said the bill recommend that LACRA exports two major cash crops and not all cash crops, an issue he addressed to a legislative reporter who reported that the bill recommends the export of all cash crops.
Rep. Kafia added that the bill was proposed after observing the absence of “real-time value” despite funds that have been directed to the cocoa and coffee sectors through loans and grants.
“Quantify how much money has been spent in the cocoa sector to match that by what we find in the field in terms of farm development. You will come with empirical evidence that the support given to farmers is not adequate. They are not given the needed output, and that frustrates me.
“When money is spent, the value of the money should be derived. Some of the money going into the sector are also loans or grants but they are all public money by our public financial act of this country and the country’s name is attached to these funds and grants,” siad Rep. Kafia.
However, an agricultural expert, Stanford Peabody, has said that model of sole exporter right is an old model of Liberia Produce Marketing Corporation (LPMC) that will fail over time. He warned the model is not a good model to be replicated.
“LPMC was not a good model, that is why we do not have it anymore. What I am seeing is that we are trying to go back to a model that failed and this will cause a disaster for the cocoa and coffee sectors,” said Peabody.
He also blamed Rep. Kafia for failing to consult with actors before submitting the bill to his colleagues in the House of Representatives. According to Peabody, such a move should have been backed by most recent data.
Additionally, development partners, GROW-Liberia and Solidaridad West Africa-Liberia, have called on frontrunners to address the matter with a long term thought. They cautioned that whatever is decided could impact the sectors and the image of Liberia.
Rep. Kafia has welcomed private stakeholders to open-hearing session to debate their concerns. But Stakeholders are expected to meet for a second time before the open hearing session.