Monrovia — A day-long meeting to discuss prospects and challenges facing the Liberia cocoa sector was held over the weekend. Called by Agriculture Minister Jeanine Cooper, the meeting sought to reactivate the Cocoa sector platform, a multi-disciplinary platform that includes; multi-nationals that, donors, projects, processors, exporters and farmers.
The platform has been a bit dormant due to the COVID-19 and is now trying to reactivate as farmers have entered a season when they should be transplanting Cocoa.
Said the minister: "It is a welcome thing for me because I like to see things moving in the different sectors. Some of the challenges involve coordination. Some farmers have expressed confusion and as a new minister I have to admit that it has been a challenge coming in as I will have to follow and learn who is doing what in each sector.a'
The minister described the sector as a shining star. "Since I came to office, we have some people producing chocolate in Liberia at its superior quality. The sector is ready to industrialize in Liberia despite all the challenges."
Madam Josephine Francis, President of the Farmers Union network, in an interview with reporters, stressed the need for better coordination amongst policymakers and players in the cocoa sector.
She expressed concern about the existing cocoa trees that have been around since the 70s and the loss of interest in the sector by farmers' children since in fact most of the farmers are aging.
"Most of the trees in Liberia are very old and because of that most of them are developing low production. The farmers are old, and their children have gone to venture in other sectors of life. Can we rehabilitate these trees? We have LACRA, we have CARI, the Ministry of Agriculture we need a good coordination and not reinventing the wheel. We need to train graduates of the University of Liberia Agriculture College. Cocoa is a low hanging fruit, we need to tap into that sector. There are good chocolate companies who want to do business with the Liberia cocoa sector."
The Liberian National Cocoa Sector Public-Private Platform, also known as the NC3P, is a
public-private platform that has played a significant role in the visioning, coordination, and facilitation of some key interventions within the cocoa sector.
The vision statement of the platform is "towards a sustainable cocoa sector that enhances smallholder farmers, agripreneurs and protects the forests of Liberia"
The platform was established in 2019, as part of result 3 the Liberian Cocoa Sector Improvement Programme1 (LISCIP), which is a four-year initiative funded by the European Union and implemented by Solidaridad West Africa and partners. Over the past year, the platform has made significant headways, notably with capacity-building initiatives, such as: facilitating recommendations on issues related to cocoa regulations and proposed legislations; facilitating of group discussions/ networking among stakeholders, and co-facilitating the attendance of platform stakeholder in international cocoa sector related events.
To enable these achievements, the platform initiated a governance structure comprised of a General Assembly, a Steering Committee, a Secretariat (led by IDH Liberia), and several technical committees. This structure has laid the ground for future work such as the finalization of the Liberia Cocoa Sector Roadmap and other programs thereafter.
The advent of the COVID 19 pandemic and the declaration by the Government of Liberia of a state of emergency (that led to movement restrictions, social distancing requirement, etc) in early April 2020, the platform's work was seriously impacted.
Cocoa next to rubber, and oil palm
Cocoa is the third most important cash crop in Liberia, after rubber and oil palm. There are about 30,000 Liberian smallholder farmers are engaged in cocoa production in mostly agroforestry production systems. National cocoa bean production is estimated to be between 7,000 to 17,000 metric tons per annum, with an unknown amount of Liberian cocoa beans being informally exported to neighboring countries: Cote D'Ivoire, Sierra Leone and Guinea. The major cocoa-producing counties are Nimba, Bong and Lofa.
Some key government institutions involved in the cocoa sector are: the Ministry of Agriculture (MoA), the Liberia Agricultural Commodity Regulatory Authority (LACRA), the Ministry of Commerce and Industries, the National Standards Laboratory and the Cooperative Development Agency
The Government of the Republic of Liberia, through His Excellency George Manneh Weah, has placed cocoa as one of the priority cash crops, targeted to contribute significantly Pillar 2 (the Economy and Jobs) of Pro-Poor Agenda for Prosperity and Development (PPAPD). The goal of the government is to support the increase of cocoa production from 6,773 mt in 2017 to 52,847 mt in 2023 through innovative policy prescriptions targeting incentives, research and innovation, investment and industry and marketing