In Coleman Hill, a community on the outskirts of Tubmanburg, in the Bomi county in Liberia, a pastor who has been receiving support from the Sustainable West Africa Palm Oil Programme (SWAPP), implemented by Solidaridad, has transformed his Rural Community Development Enterprise, an organization which supports smallholder farmers, in to a bigger one.
Pastor Bosten D. T. Devine, who runs a full gospel ministry alongside his enterprise, has benefited from various forms of training, continuous coaching, farm inputs, access to processing centers, and markets, among others.
In 2020, Bosten, after receiving training in best management practices (BMP) and alternative livelihood organized by Solidaridad for smallholder oil palm farmers under the programme, returned to his community to encourage and train other farmers on how to maximize their yields and plant new farms.
He says his method of preaching the gospel while teaching his congregation to get involved in meaningful activities that will empower them has worked very well. “I always use my preaching skills to encourage more people to get involved with agriculture,” he says.
Prior to receiving the training, Bosten says “The enterprise had about 10 hectares of oil palm that were not producing very well. Our yields were very low, which affected the quantity of our crude palm oil.”
“But after applying the knowledge we gained from the various training sessions, we started to see transformation. Today, all our farms are producing fruits and we now have so much to process,” says Bosten.
According to the preacher, on an average, his enterprise produces 151 litres of palm oil weekly. “We are able to produce between 94 and 151 litres of crude palm oil every week. Before applying the best management practices, we were not even producing half of that quantity,” he adds.
Providing farm services to more farmers
From a humble beginning of five farmers, the Rural Community Development Enterprise now has 20 permanent farmers and provides support at a fee to more than 25 other farmers, including youth and women who are involved in palm production and other agricultural activities.
“Every single farmer we have trained is experiencing transformation on their individual farms, and our productivity has greatly increased. The successes we are now experiencing are direct results of the training provided by Solidaridad,” he says.
Engaging in alternative livelihood activities to generate additional income
Due to the increase in production, Bosten indicates that there has been a significant increase in their income generation, creating an avenue for investment in other alternative activities. “We have moved into honey production and have four hubs that we harvest from regularly for sales. We are also involved with groundnuts and citron productions. We have a large nursery of citrons that will soon be transplanted to farms,” he says.
Bosten says his enterprise is considering setting up a cocoa nursery alongside their already established oil palm nursery for additional income. “We will be planting some of the cocoa on our farms, but a large portion will be sold to farmers for an arranged fee,” he adds.
More smallholder farmerS now own oil palm farms
Before the implementation of the Sustainable West Africa Palm Oil Programme, oil palm farming in Liberia had always benefited the large concessionaires with huge farms and machinery, and most of their final products were exported to foreign markets. These big corporations are owned by companies based in Asia, Europe and the Americas, and they employ local farmers to work on their plantations. As of July 2021, the Sustainable West Africa Palm Oil Programme has registered and supported more than 7,800 smallholder farmers who own farms where they grow, harvest and process fresh fruit bunches into palm oil for consumption, as well as sale.
Many of the farmers who have benefited from the implementation of the programme have been able to provide better education for their children and improved the living conditions of their families.
The programme, which ends in December 2021, has since 2019 supported smallholder farmers in the Bomi, Bong, Grand Bassa, Lofa and Nimba counties of Liberia.
Implemented in Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, and Sierra Leone, with funding from the Embassy of the Netherlands in Ghana, the programme seeks to contribute to the transformation of the oil palm sector in West Africa, increase incomes of smallholder farmers and processors, create jobs and generate economic growth.