A national conservation organization, the Society for the Conservation of Nature of Liberia (SCNL), has graduated 112 farmers in cocoa production after 10 months of intensive training in Gbarpolu County.
The farmers were selected from the Tonglay and Normon clans of Kongba District. The initiative, which was officially launched in August 2016, is part of the European Union (EU) funded GolaMA Project.
SCNL’s executive director, T. Edwin Kamara, described the project as the best intervention framework for managing Liberia’s forest sector especially protected areas that are either being managed by the government or with the participation of the communities.
Mr. Kamara, also former project coordinator of the GolaMA Project, said the training of the farmers is consistent with SCNL partners’ plans and visions to respond to issues of concern related to sustainable alternative livelihood for forest dependent communities.
He admonished the graduates to make maximum use of the knowledge and skills acquired by focusing their full dependency on the forest to cocoa production to improve their standard of living.
Mr. Kamara said the project earlier this year provided small business and loan management training for 100 women in Kongba District (Normon-55 persons and Tonglay-45 persons).
In support of expanding skills learned to practice, the women in groups of five persons each received through their local community forest committees L$50,000 as small loans to do or expand on their small businesses and make repayments to their communities over a six months cycle.
He said: “The intention is to run three cycles with each group and then pave the way for new groups of women, while the current ones remain on board as long as they follow the rules of borrowing and repayment and their commitment to the communities’ effort in managing the forest.”
Mr. Kamara said that the SCNL/GolaMA Project initially provided up to L$1million for the small loan scheme in this first cycle, of which the Norman Clan received L$550,000 covering 11 groups, and Tonglay Clan received L$450,000 covering 9 groups.
“Under the GolaMA project, six result areas are identified as intervention strategies to be implemented. Under result two of the six intervention strategies, which aims to address the livelihood condition for the communities, SCNL also worked with communities wherein they identified the following as livelihood alternatives: bee keeping, cocoa farming, small loan initiatives, lowland (rice) farming and groundnuts production in the area.
“Training for lowland farming and groundnuts production are ongoing as residents are already benefiting from bee-keeping (honey production) harvest and sales through our partner, the Universal Outreach Foundation (UOF)/Liberia Pure Honey, Liberia’s premium honey industry, as well small loan program and the Farmer Field Schools, which recently were completed with optimisms.”
Mr. Kamara said with the level of work that has been done under the project so far, he is now confident that the results are becoming visible, and thanked the authorities and people of Kongba and their county leadership for having welcomed the project and for their participation to date.
The GolaMA Project manager, Anne Gardner, who presented certificates to some of the graduates during the program, expressed happiness for the project that resulted in the graduation of the 112 farmers in cocoa production.
Ms. Gardner is the representative of the RSPB, SCNL’s partner on the GolaMA Project implementation and its institutional capacity development partner under the Birdlife International partnership. She admonished the graduates to use the acquired knowledge in a meaningful way that will change their way of living, to where they would become gradually less dependent on the forest.
“Do not put the certificates under the bed for rats to eat them, but place it in a visible place that when you see it every day you will remember to go to your cocoa farm to apply what you have learned. I want you people to remain hopeful because there is a lot more support for the people of Kongba District in the coming years as more people will be trained if all goes well as concept papers for more funding for the GolaMA Project are being sent to donors.” Madam Gardner said.
One of the graduates, Philip Lawson, Sr., Magistrate of Kongbor Magisterial Court who spoke on behalf of the graduates of the Tonglay Clan FFS graduating class, said he was glad to be a part of the Farmer Field School training.
He said even though he is a government official, he could not allow the training opportunity to pass him since he knew that by his involvement, his family will benefit from the GolaMA livelihood training in the long run, “and this will make their lives better.”
The graduation ceremony was attended by the Kongba District Commissioner, chiefs, elders, other stakeholders from the forestry sector, including representatives from the Forestry Development Authority (FDA).