Key stakeholders endorse a workplan for a new cocoa project in the Mano River Union to raise incomes for farmers and producers along the value chain.
That's the word Abass Khazem uses to describe a recent workshop on boosting the cocoa value chain in Sierra Leone.
'The workshop was amazing, especially when it comes to value addition,' said Khazem, general manager of the Alibaz trading company, which exports organic and UTZ-certified cocoa from Sierra Leone. 'It gave us more perspectives about the business we are doing.'
Policymakers, regulators and other cocoa sector stakeholders participated in a two-day event in Freetown to kick-start a project to boost value chain development and competitiveness in Sierra Leone. Representatives from Liberia and Guinea were also invited to participate, as the project will be implemented in these countries later this year.
The Netherlands Trust Fund (NTF IV) project in the Mano River Union - funded by the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs - aims to help rural households in the three countries, which have suffered outbreaks of the deadly Ebola virus in recent years, by increasing wealth along the cocoa value chain.
NTF IV, based on a partnership between the Dutch Centre for the Promotion of Imports from developing countries (CBI) and the International Trade Centre (ITC), builds the competitiveness of producers and exporters in priority sectors of selected countries.
Adding value to cocoa
Cocoa is vital to Sierra Leone's economy and is the top agricultural export, according to Shiaka Kawa, director of export development at the Sierra Leone Investment and Export Promotion Agency (SLIEPA). Most cocoa exports are shipped to the Netherlands.
The 14-15 February workshop had two overarching goals, according to Prince Kamara, ITC national coordinator. One was to inform policymakers, regulators and stakeholders about the latest developments in Sierra Leone's cocoa value chain. The second was to win their endorsement of a workplan mapping out activities to support that value chain.
Participants reached both goals, Kamara noted, as the workplan was validated during the workshop.
Sharing knowledge through 'world café'
'With the "world café" approach that was used, the workshop was highly participatory,' Kamara said. The world café format for hosting group discussions involves a small group of people discussing a topic at one table, then switching tables to continue the discussion. "It gave the chance to every participant to contribute to the identification and shaping of the proposed intervention areas based on the gaps identified by the value chain analysis study and the practical situation observed and felt by the participants on the ground.'
The activities in the workplan are designed to help national institutions provide better support to farmers and small-scale enterprises in cocoa production and trade; strengthen the capacities of farmers and enterprises that process and trade the beans; and improve links between national exporters and international traders.
The workplan also involves reviewing policies related to the cocoa sector and formulating new ones if necessary, Kamara said.
The workshop consisted of nine sessions featuring presentations by representatives from the Ministry of Trade and Industry, SLIEPA, the Produce Monitoring Board, ITC and CBI.
The discussions focused on three areas: reinforcing the capacities of government and national institutions to design policies supporting cocoa production and trade; bolstering service providers' capacities to deliver services to stakeholders; and improving the business environment and market linkages.
Kawa of SLIEPA called the workshop valuable because it highlighted different aspects of the cocoa value chain, including marketing: 'Previously we just looked at quality and having export earnings. The workshop opened up new possibilities to me, and I realized that cocoa is not as competitive as it should be.'
He also noted the importance of targeting niche markets, a takeaway that he will incorporate into his work at SLIEPA.
'That's where growth opportunities lie,' he said. 'There is high-quality cocoa that comes from Sierra Leone. We can specialize. It's all very exciting.'