Smallholder cocoa and oil palm farmers in Bong and Nimba counties have hailed the intervention of global network organization Solidaridad Liberia in their farming activities which has enabled them to learn and adopt best management practices (BMPs) that enable improved crops yields and earnings.
Solidaridad launched a four - year cocoa and oil palm agriculture programs in Liberia in May this year, aimed at equipping thousands of smallholder farmers - both men and women - with training and access to finance to explore the two lucrative sectors.The cocoa rehabilitation and intensification program (CORIP) and the sustainable West Africa oil palm program (SWAPP) funded by the Kingdom of the Netherlands and the European Union are the extension of similar programs in the economies of neighboring Sierra Leone, Ghana and Cote D'Ivoire.The program is being implemented in five counties including Bong, Nimba and Lofa and in 84 different communities here.
Through the support of Solidaridad, local farm facilitators help farmers in villages with training and technical knowledge including pruning (trim a tree by cutting away its dead or overgrown branches), layout, nursery establishment and other things at demonstration sites and farmers' field schools (FFS) to apply BMPs on their own farms to get more yields.
Under the BMP, farmers are taught to apply five approaches which include field accessibility; the ground cover management or replacing unwanted trees; pruning which involves removing old palm fronts or parasitic crops from cocoa trees; and the bulk front stacking, among others.
Lack of these technical skills by local farmers denied them of harvesting enough fresh fruits on cocoa and oil palm farms prior to Solidaridad's intervention.
Local companies supported by Solidaridad in the sectors like EMFEED and Kpalama Agro-business Enterprise in Bong are working as partners with Solidaridad, providing services to smallholder farmers.During a recent visit at a cocoa farm in Behyeepea village Nimba County, the community farm facilitator Mr. Tony Jones says every week participants are trained in cocoa improvement.
"And Solidaridad too, we appreciate them very highly because we were planting cocoa, we didn't know what really cocoa means. But they opened our eyes. They're making us to know that cocoa is very much important in our lives," he says.Solidaridad Cocoa supervisor for Nimba, Mr. Amara Conneh says the farmers go for training in nursery establishment, rehabilitation, replanting, pest and disease control to quality control.
"Before, some of the farmers had large farms, but they couldn't get up to one ton from there. But for now, after the training, you can see that some of the farmers have all started making good money from their farms through the intervention of Solidaridad," Conneh says
One of the female local farmers in the village, Madam Victoria George says Solidaridad showed them some techniques to plant the cocoa."Firstly we went we brush the farm, they told us to plant corn and cassava and plantain before planting the cocoa. And we did all," Victoria says.According to her, the sale from the corn, plantains and cassava on her farm has sustained she and her children while they await harvest of cocoa.
"And the cassava when I dig, I sell it. It's able to give our bag of rice because now bag of rice that's L$3,000," she says."At first the farm couldn't bear, but now the idea the people [Solidaridad] bring to us when I apply it on that farm, now the farm [is] looking good. I can be happy," Mr. Alphonso Deway, a male farmer in Behyeepea village says.
"What I have to tell them is that the program is a good program," another cocoa farmer, Mr. Rufus Karyar says in appreciation to Solidaridad.
Also speaking, farmer Joseph Darwon says the first benefit he got was the corn yields during the hunger season which helped he and children by selling the harvest to buy other needs.
The CEO of Kpalamah Agro-business Enterprise in Bong County, Mr. Sylvester Kpai says his business was established 24 July 2014 to bring new technology when it comes to the hybrid oil palm seeding which is a commercial business in the oil palm sector.
He says Kpalamah Agro-business is providing technical services to other farmers in Bong, Grand Bassa and Maryland Counties who do not have the technical know - how about pruning, layout, nursery establishment and other things.
"Solidaridad Liberia has improved our economy so much, has transformed our investment from 3,000 seeding to 10,000. We [are] very grateful. And to the people of the United Kingdom, because it is their taxpayers' money. It is their funding that's getting us to be where we are," Mr. Kpai says.He expresses hope that the partnership with Solidaridad Liberia can continue to serve the country, improve and change the economy here.
"This is the only way that we can go forward. Agriculture as a business is the only way we can transform Liberia's economy," he adds.He says Solidaridad is helping them through funding, pointing to a sprinkler irrigation system used by the Kpalama Agro-business on its oil palm nursery to water the seeding.
"It reduces labor significantly. We had already planned that without this system, we were going to be using 15 to 20 persons to do watering," he says, adding that only two persons are now needed to run the sprinkler irrigation system.During an interview, Mr. Cyrus Saygbe, Solidaridad Oil Palm Program Manager says in observance of Solidaridad's 50th Anniversary, the group thinks it is important to allow Liberians who are not in areas that Solidaridad is focused to see the work it does.
Mr. Saygbe says presently "our" average yield for oil palm in Liberia stands around nine tons per hectares per year, which he says is smaller in comparison with other African countries.
"The standard yield should be around 15 to 18 metric tons per hectare per year. And so with the best management practices we increase yield, use the existing plot and increase yield," he says.Cyrus notes that when yield increases, the farmer gets more fresh fruits branches and can also sell more of the fruits to earn more money."So we're doing this in the five counties, 84 different communities and I think it's working well," he says.
Solidaridad Program Manager for Cocoa, BoimaBafaie says in Liberia, Solidaridad is implementing Cocoa and Oil Palm programs funded by the Kingdom of the Netherlands and the European Union.He says the program is implemented in Bong, Nimba and Lofa Counties, targeting over 15,000 cocoa farmers.
According to Bafaie, the core of the program is the centers for cocoa development (CCDs) which are one stop shops that are co-funded by private sector companies to provide services to farmers.He says Solidaridad is building 40 of these private companies, 10 of which are under the EU funded program Liberia Cocoa Sector Improvement Program (LICSIP) and 30 under the Dutch funded program - Cocoa Rehabilitation and Intensification Program (CORIP).