More than 225 tree crop Youth Contractors have concluded a week long capacity building exercise on Cocoa nursery establishment and management.
Cocoa nursery is where you raise cocoa seedlings for transplanting to the permanent field at the appropriate time.
So as part of its implementation strategy to maximize cocoa production in Sierra Leone, the Agriculture Value Chain Development Project (AVDP) selected the trainees, drawn mainly from Bo, Pujehun, Kenema and Kailahun districts to serve as 'nurses or care givers' in ensuring that appropriate agronomic as well as climate smart agricultural practices are properly applied in the establishment of 1,500 hectares of cocoa to be owned by 1,500 farmers in Sierra Leone.
Cocoa and oil palm are some of crops that the AVDP is supporting in its 6 year implementation period.
The development objective of the project is to increase incomes for smallholder farmers through the promotion of agriculture as a business. Generally, the project supports farmers to produce on a wider scale through a value chain approach that supports production, processing and access to market.
It is understood that agriculture plays such an important role in Sierra Leone's economy given that it employs around two-thirds of the country's labour force. So while cocoa is considered as one of the main cash crops in Sierra Leone, its productivity still provides a tiny fraction in the country's overall agricultural production.
It is against this backdrop that the AVDP is supporting the Government of Sierra Leone in line with the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry to advance the country's wider development trajectory of reducing poverty, enhancing food security and providing youth employment/empowerment especially at the community level.
The Project Manager, Abdulrahman Bob Conteh disclosed during the launch of the training programme in Kenema that the Youth Contractors who are selected from the main cocoa belt areas of the country will provide technical support in managing the cocoa seedlings.
They will be individually provided with a monthly stipend of Le 500,000 ($45) as part of support towards cocoa production.
Cocoa is the main ingredient in the production of chocolate and cocoa butter. As an important 'cash crop" in West Africa, cocoa provides income to millions of families. It can be used for various purposes including the production of soft drinks and alcohol, jam and marmalade, body cream and animal feed.
Prior to Sierra Leone's civil war in 1991, cocoa was a major export crop for the country. However, many farms were abandoned, and production reduced drastically during the period of the crisis. Over the years, many cocoa plantations have grown older. The effect of Climate Change and the planting of low yielding traditional varieties, poor farm management practices by cocoa farmers, limited use of agro-inputs such are pesticides and fertilizers and the shortfall in agricultural labour at the community level are some of the setbacks in the growth of the cocoa sector in Sierra Leone.
While it is estimated that less than 42,000 hectares of land is dedicated to the production of cocoa in Sierra Leone as compared to around 800,000 in Ghana which produces around 18% of the world's cocoa supply, AVDP is collaborating with the Ministry of Youth Affairs to support the youths in agriculture initiative by providing new knowledge, technology adoption, provision of hybrid/improved seed variety and creating the platform to revitalize cocoa production.
During the launching ceremony, the Minister of Youth Affairs, Mohamed Oman Bangura particularly applauded the AVDP's approach of youth capacity building and employment enhancement in the farming industry. The Minister informed the "para agronomists" that agriculture is not a game of trial and error but a serious investment that require scientific and structural approach in its advancement. He urged the beneficiaries to serve as ambassadors in inspiring other young people as a way of promoting youth engagement in agriculture.
Another set of 300 Youth Contractors are due to be trained shortly in the IVS sector following the end of the week long cocoa nursery establishment training. The training is facilitated by staff of the Njala University which the AVDP is also supporting to establish oil palm nursery at the main campus in Mokonde.