The pricing of the cocoa commodity is a major constraint in the country, especially for farmers who, out of ignorance, are cheated by some unscrupulous agents, according to GROW-Liberia Team leader, Yoquai Lavala.
“Maybe some have been getting their fair share, but some have not been,” he says. “It has not been a fair process for everyone.”
The price of cocoa is supposed to be passed down to traders who are duly registered with the arm of the government that has oversight responsibility, but this seems not to be the case.
“I can tell you from all indications that farmers have not been having their fair share of the produce,” he said.
It is against this backdrop that GROW is collaborating with Liberia Agricultural Commodities Regulatory Authority (LACRA), formerly the Liberia Produce and Marketing Company (LPMC), which manages the sector, to ensure that cocoa farmers get their just returns on their produce.
Lavala spoke when he and his team, which also included the Result Management Director Ritesh Prasad and the Intervention Assistant Joseph B. Johnson, made a donation of a computer set and its accompanying subscription to LACRA.
GROW, under the arrangement, is responsible for the provision of technical support to LACRA to help develop a sustainable market price information system to disseminate market price information to cocoa farmers at the point of sale. GROW is also facilitating and funding for seven months, the dissemination of cocoa prices on eight rural and national radio stations in Bong, Lofa, Montserrado and Nimba counties.
“So what we want to do is to make sure that everybody along the value chain understands the pricing, including the guy who is willing to pay for it, the one who is doing the aggregation of the trading, and the one who is producing it,” he said.
In this way, Lavala added, there will be some level of fairness in the pricing process. “This is why we are going into the villages and the community radio stations. We will even start to put billboards up that even people who are not into the sector will have an understanding of the pricing,” the GROW team leader said.
He said it is how the rubber sector in the country is structured. “You cannot tell any rubber farmer that he does not know the price. This is the same thing we want to do in the cocoa sector,” he said.
GROW, through its partner African Venture Limited (AVL), currently works with 3,000 UTZ certified cocoa farmers in several communities in Nimba.
UTZ is the world’s largest cocoa certification program working together with key industry members such as Mars, Nestle and Heinz to create an efficient sustainable program.
These are the people that have been certified to sell cocoa, Lavala said and indicated that there are additional three or four thousand farmers that “we have started working with but have not certified. We already have a partnership with another cooperative that is located in Massa-Bolahun, Lofa County.
“Understanding the level of work we have done in Nimba, we now want to test this in Lofa. Once we see that both are working then with the requisite government institutions we will make this a nationwide initiative,” he said.
Lavala noted there are indications that cocoa will make a big boost in the agriculture sector in the near future, adding that Liberia could have competitive advantage in this sector. “The fact that we have deciduous forest, and our climatic condition adjusts well with perennial crops makes cocoa one of the best crops for us. At the same time it is a forested crop. If you manage it well, most of our natural forest here can be preserved. So it works well for Liberia,” he stated.
The GROW donation was received by LACRA’s Deputy Managing Director for Administration, Andrew Allakamenin, who lauded GROW for intervening in such a critical area.
“We have been thinking about this for some time now and your intervention is timely,” Allakamenin said, also calling on the entity to help construct warehouses to address the challenges of storage.
He acknowledged that although the Internet and radio stations are vital media to convey information to the local farmers, Grow-Liberia should also think about erecting billboards in the community to post the prices of cocoa and other vital information within the sector.
“I want to thank you for the donation. We look forward with more networking when the new government takes over.
“Our indicative price helps the farmers to bargain. To some extent farmers need financial help, support, fermentation process. When LACRA comes into place, the sector will boom,” the LPMC Deputy Managing Director noted.
Meanwhile, Grow-Liberia has renovated a warehouse in Karnplay and built one in Buutuo that is able to take in 800 tons of cocoa; and in addition provided 25 dryers to farmers with each holding up to 400 kilograms of cocoa.
“We conducted a market survey analysis within the cocoa sector and we found out that warehousing was a major problem,” Mr. Joseph Johnson, another official, said. “There is nowhere to stack the cocoa; so as a result it is exposed to the heat and too much air and the moisture content gets so high. At that level, you cannot sell the cocoa at the price you want to.”