— Says LACRA Boss
Dr. John S. Flomo, director-general of the Liberia Agriculture Commodities Regulatory Agency (LACRA), has said that the regulations governing the sector shall remain in place pending dialogue with all actors.
Flomo’s statement came against the backdrop of concerns from cocoa exporters, producers, farmers and development partners to reform some provisions of the cocoa and coffee regulations of Liberia for the growth of the agriculture sector.
He made the statement on Thursday, July 18, 2019 at a cocoa conference held in Monrovia attended by local cocoa farmers, exporters and development partners.
Dr. Flomo delivered a powerpoint presentation on the policies governing the sector, where cocoa exporters and producers strongly argued that the regulations are essential for the sector, but it must be done in consultation to create a level playing field for all farmers and stakeholders.
In recent times, the cocoa sector has been embroiled with confusion, which local exporters and smallholder farmers are not satisfied with policies LACRA has introduced.
It can be recalled that local media reported that authorities at LACRA have provided exclusive rights to a Lebanese exporter to export cocoa, an assertion which Dr. Flomo has denied.
Some of the policies governing the cocoa sector that local exporters are seeking amendment of, include a US$10,000 export license fee, US$50 per ton as royalties fee, and that LACRA’s warehouse be compulsory for exporters to store their cocoa produce.
Sheikh A. Turay, President of the Liberia National Cocoa Exporters Association (LINACEA), recommended to LACRA that the financial thresholds within the policy are “unrealistic,” and a barrier to continuing participation of existing exporters, and potential farmers’ cooperatives, especially those who wish to engage in the production of niche or certified cocoa.
“We recommend that export license for local exporters be set at US$3,500 and royalties should be fixed at US$10 per ton,” Turay said.
Regarding processing and packaging, the Association welcomes the addition of warehousing facilities for those who do not have the capacity to store their produce.
However, it is not acceptable for LACRA’s warehouse to be compulsory for all exporters,” he informed the participants.
Mr. Turay said increasing royalties and license fee for exporters will affect the price paid to farmers.
But contrary to the proposal for change of those provisions in the policy, Dr. Flomo said that the cocoa and coffee regulations take effect in August. He however said there will be a dialogue that would seek to make amendments in the policy.
“The holding of dialogue is critical to the crafting of policy, specifically when we have recognized that our goal is to support smallholder cocoa and coffee farmers. Therefore, we cannot remove the government from regulating the sector. We are working with our development partners and all stakeholders to dialogue on those provisions in the policy that may not be welcoming,” he told the participants.
Dr. Flomo said that the sector has not being monopolized as some media outlets have reported, adding that local exporters are still given the opportunity to compete on the markets. That is to say, the market remains open.
“I am glad that the leadership of the exporters association did not mention that we have given exclusive rights to a Lebanese exporter to export cocoa and coffee. This information is misleading and meant to undermine government’s agenda to improve Liberian businesses,” he said.
However, Tetejay Sesay, a female cocoa farmer in Lofa County, said that the policies LACRA introduced are not going to help smallholder cocoa farmers, because there are no fair prices for the commodity offered to farmers.
Karley Armah, managing director of the Liberia Agriculture Asset Development Company, said there is a need for LACRA to continuously negotiate with farmers and stakeholders to finalize the policies.