Liberian Cocoa Not Valued Fairly

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An international cocoa consultant, Dr. Andrew Lambert has observed that cocoa produced by Liberian smallholder farmers is not independently graded at the local level and as a result they do not receive payment according to the true value of their products.
According to Dr. Lambert, cocoa produce coming into Liberia from the Ivory Coast is either incorporated into village-level cocoa or transshipped, either formally or informally, through Liberia for export.
He said that Liberia normally exports cocoa that has high levels of moldy, slatey or violet beans, all signs of inadequate fermentation and drying.
“Prices for cocoa beans at the local level – relative to the Freight On Board (FOB) price – have risen significantly over recent years,” Dr. Lambert said, adding that indiscriminate buying practices from informal operators reduces or eliminates incentives to farmers to follow the correct fermentation and drying techniques and thereby achieve the standard quality grades of internationally traded cocoa.

“There are lots of works to be done…” suggested Dr. Lambert, adding that Liberian farmers are at a disadvantage. In his presentation on the Cocoa market system assessment at GROW Liberia headquarters in Sinkor last Tuesday, the visiting consultant recommended that concrete steps should be taken to accomplish the required market systems changes in the Cocoa Sector, which is one of GROW Liberia’s Portfolio areas.
The Grow Liberia Program is designed to facilitate positive market systems change using the “Making Markets Work for the Poor” (M4P) approach to ensure that agricultural growth in Liberia benefits smallholder farmers and the rural poor men, women and youth while promoting permanence in the country’s economy. This will be accomplished by working through and facilitating the work of value chain actors and partners with distinct involvement in specific sectors.

To accomplish the required market systems’ changes in the Cocoa Sector, one of GROW’s Portfolio areas, international cocoa consultant Dr. Andrew Lambert was hired by GROW to do a Market Systems Assessment of the sector to assess the cocoa value chain, identify constraints and opportunities, and advise GROW on the choice of interventions to be designed to mitigate the effects of the identified constraints.
Dr. Lambert has been investigating the cocoa market systems through desk reviews, field trips to Nimba, Bong and Lofa, visits to exporters, buyers, input suppliers and engagement with agents, government and other participants or players in the cocoa sector. His presentation focused on his findings during the month-long assessment of the cocoa market system which was followed by recommendations to GROW-Liberia for appropriate interventionsthat will spur growth and development and increased economic benefit for smallholder cocoa farmers and buyers in Liberia.

Meanwhile, Dr. Lambert said that in order to guarantee a fair and equitable price for the smallholder cocoa producers, a mechanism should be established by the Government of Liberia prior to the start of the 2015/2016 cocoa season to require that all cocoa produced in the country must be graded and certified at the local level.

According to him, this mechanism should be followed by a regulation implemented within the following twelve months. “The intent of this action is to independently certify the specific grade(s) of cocoa produced in the country in accordance with a transparent grading system that is compliant with international standards.”
Dr. Lambert also recommended certification which will entail the issuance of a certificate that will state the local origin of the cocoa, and the farm or farmer organization responsible for the production in order to provide full traceability.

In order to implement this practical, strategic mechanism, Dr. Lambert stated that a contract should be established between the Government of Liberia, through its commodity regulatory agency, and an independent professional quality assurance firm that will provide the grading and certification services at the local level of all cocoa produced in the country.

“This will help ensure that throughout the value chain all certified graded cocoa will be sold transparently at a fair and equitable market price,” Dr. Lambert said.
The visiting Consultant also called for the establishment of new rules of the game through a combination of regulatory measures and private sector coordination agreements in order to promote respect for contractual agreements between growers, buyers, traders and exporters; promote the production of grade one cocoa through clearer price incentives and ease of access to pre-harvest best practice and inputs; promote the correct processing and grading of cocoa and eliminate the trade in wet cocoa.

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