The Solidaridad West Africa Project in Liberia has launched a loan program under its Liberia Cocoa Sector Improvement Program (LICSIP) to assist approximately 2,000 farmers in the cocoa sector.
The loan program was launched recently in Gbarnga, Bong County. The Country Representative of Solidaridad-Liberia, Michael S. Toe said the launch of the ‘Revolving Loan Fund’ is intended to promote access to finance for cocoa farmers in order to improve incomes.
He said that with access to finance, smallholder cocoa producers can realize an expansion in production to develop their farming businesses.
“Normally a revolving loan fund is a critical process in accessing funds. In such a program, we have managed to do the Village Saving Loan (VSL), whose borrowing rate is limited to what people can generate at the community level. This is intended to help expand the businesses of farmers,” he explained.
Mr. Doe further clarified that the revolving loan is established for specific reasons. “This is meant to assist farmers to export and make them have alternative access to finance.
Agriculture is the primary source of income for approximately 80 percent of Liberia’s population, according to the Liberia Institute of Statistics and Geo-Information Services (LIGIS). Even though many of the country’s population are involved in farming, agricultural productivity still remains low as a result of many challenges, including lack of access to finance.
However, farmers, agro-inputs dealers, exporters, and other small and medium enterprises (SMEs) that are operating in the cocoa sector will have access to loans for expansion purposes on a low-interest rate, according to Mr. Doe. He also mentioned that, based on the assessment by the financial institution, it is possible for a farmer to have a minimum of L$20,000 to L$55,000 depending on a farmer’s capacity.
Meanwhile, he stated that the loan program is expected to last between 3 to 12 months and when farmers pay on a timely basis it provides the opportunity for others to benefit.
“The interest rate is about 12%, while new farmers or people that borrowed will only pay back 6% interest rate. “It is our expectation that between that time you should be able to pay back the loan,” he told the farmers.”
The Solidaridad West Africa Liberia boss, however, called on farmers and other actors operating in the cocoa sector to be sincere about the opportunity-emphasizing that the taxpayers’ money of the European Union must achieve its intended purpose. At the same time, 10 mini-warehouses constructed by Solidaridad have been dedicated, each hosting 10 to 40 metric tons of cocoa.
The EU Ambassador to Liberia, Laurent Delahousse, has cautioned farmers to take advantage of the program. Ambassador Delahousse used the occasion to pledge the EU’s continued support to Liberia. Delahousse, who also commissioned 10 mini-warehouses constructed by Solidaridad, expressed excitement for the program when he symbolically cut the ribbon to the facility.
Meanwhile, the Director-General of the Liberia Agriculture Commodities Regulatory Authority (LACRA), Dr. John Flomo, also lauded the EU for its support in the cocoa sector.
Launching the loan program, Dr. Flomo emphasized that farmers should exhibit sincerity under the program. He said that the behavior of those receiving loans will determine if others would benefit. The LACRA Boss further recounted his institution’s long-standing relationship with Solidaridad, stating that it has gone a long way.
He indicated that cocoa has become one of the viable economic commodities which, if handled well, Liberia will in a few years benefit from the money that will come to the country.
“It will help to contribute to economic development. So, we want to thank Solidaridad and the EU again for their support,” the LACRA boss said.
Mr. Halala Kukulo, a proxy of the Agriculture Minister (Jeanine Cooper), also mentioned that there are farmers that are in other sectors involved with other value chains who want such opportunity and, as such, the beneficiaries should not take the loan program for granted.
“The EU and Solidaridad have been so helpful to the Government of Liberia through the Ministry of Agriculture when it comes to activities as a Ministry. I want to thank you so much on behalf of the minister. It is through your support that we can make reference in our report that we can boast of today,” Mr. Kukulo added.