Dr. John S. Flomo, Director General of the Liberia Agriculture Commodities Regulatory Authority (LACRA), has spoken of changes in the controversial cocoa regulations governing the sector.
Dr. Flomo made the disclosure recently on the talk show of a local radio station in Monrovia.
The controversial cocoa regulations have gone through serious criticisms in recent time by cocoa farmers and stakeholders with concern that the regulations were not in the interest of the many actors in the cocoa sector.
The Senate, in August 2019, instructed the LACRA director general to consider reason to revise the policy when he appeared before that august body.
Cocoa exporters, smallholder farmers and development partners had earlier proposed amendments in the policy but Dr. Flomo had insisted immediate implementation.
Dr. Flomo, who spoke on the talk show, said export license fee for local firms is now reduced to US$5,000 and foreign exporters' license fee set at US$10,000.
He added that the royalties fee is reduced to US$10 per ton and that exporters are allowed to process cocoa in their their own warehouses but must be in conformity with international standards.
Previously, the policies required US$10,000 as license fee for existing local exporters, US$50 as royalties fee per ton and that LACRA's warehouses become compulsory for exporters. At the time, local exporters argued that fees set were a strategy by LACRA to put the out of business and promote foreign export firms.
According to Dr. Flomo, the changes were effected after series of consultations with farmers, stakeholders, exporters and development partners.
He said the regulations are intended to create a standard in the cocoa sector so that the country can compete with neighboring countries, as well as generate revenues for the government.
"Cocoa exporters must meet the standard in line with the policies. The exporters and farmers are pleased with the changes being made," Flomo told the radio program.
According to him, there are currently 11 exporters within the cocoa sector, majority of whom are Liberians.
"The policies are designed to make Liberians participants in their own economy, because President Weah has promised that the citizens can no longer be spectators," he said.
He said that although the cocoa policies are now finalized there is a need for the government to invest more money to improve the sector.
"There are still challenges facing our many smallholder farmers and shall require enough budgetary allocation to support them," he said.
Dr. Flomo however said despite the challenges, LACRA has made tremendous progress barely in its one-year existence as an agency.
"With limited resources, we have provided modern dryers, and constructed warehouses to contribute to the best quality of cocoa on the market," he added.
Flomo said that his entity can now use an electronic device to weigh cocoa, and have set up a better database to monitor the progress of cocoa production.
He then spoke of trained men in the entity that are providing technical support to farmers in the cocoa regions, adding that plans are underway to train more staff.
Flomo said that his entity is seriously working to improve other areas, including rubber, oil palm and vegetables to improve the economy.
"We want the blueprint for all of our commodities as we know that rubber is being challenged, so we need to invest a lot in our edible commodities," he said.
Flomo said that his entity is working with investors, and the World Bank to source additional funding for the sector that should support smallholder farmers.
Sheikh A. Turay, president of the Liberia Cocoa Exporters Association, said the Association has embraced the changes made by LACRA in the policy, and described it as "a way forward for the cocoa sector".
Meanwhile, the Daily Observer has learnt that the Government of Liberia has approved US$500,000 for the development of the cocoa sector.
Gordon Garway, communications manager at LACRA said the money will be used to build the capacities of smallholder farmers in the areas of training and the provision of farming inputs.
LACRA is the regulatory body of the cocoa and coffee sector, emulating the defunct Liberia Produce Marketing Corporation (LPMC). It is responsible to regulate all agricultural produce including cocoa, coffee and oil palm products from farm gates to the export markets.