Liberia leverages regional value chains for cocoa
Unlike many of its neighbouring West African nations, Liberia is not known as a traditional mainstream producer of cocoa beans. It produces about 10,000 metric tons of cocoa beans a year, just 0.2% of world production. While this figure seems minuscule, up to 40,000 smallholder farmers in Liberia produce cocoa and rely on the crop for income and food security.
Despite the vital role cocoa plays, incentives and opportunities for producers to benefit from growing and selling cocoa beans are few. A sizable gap in production skills and a lack of reliable market access hampers the development of the sector.
Significant strides have been made to revive the cocoa sector since the Second Liberian Civil War ended in 2003. Farmers are organizing cooperatives to respond to market demands. However, Liberian cocoa is heavily discounted on the world market due to quality concerns, and very little value-addition takes place to take advantage of a growing global demand for single-origin, traceable cocoa products.
In 2019, farmers and cooperatives worked with ITC’s Netherlands Trust Fund Phase IV Mano River Project to help them position Liberian cocoa in the niche, single-origin market segment.
The project, delivered using the ITC Alliances for Action (A4A) model, supports farmers and cooperatives to innovate, develop value-added products and identify local and regional market opportunities.
The project addresses cocoa quality and productivity by implementing Good Agricultural Practices (GAP), stepping up climate-smart production, and boosting crop and income diversification efforts. Importantly, the project also supports enterprises to enter regional partnerships to make more sophisticated products from cocoa.
In 2019, Arjay Farms, a woman-owned business in Liberia, joined A4A to work with Niche Cocoa, a Ghanaian chocolate manufacturer. Together, they produced the first-ever chocolate bar made in Ghana from Liberian cocoa beans.
The entire effort involved 75 Liberian women cocoa farmers to supply the cocoa beans.
The endeavour broke the isolation of cocoa farmers, in particular women, and opened a path to market. As a proof of concept, this unique, groundbreaking Liberia cocoa chocolate bar was presented at ITC’s Joint Advisory Group meeting in Geneva in July 2019.
The project continues to support Arjay Farms and five cooperatives to teach farmers skills in Good Agricultural Practices (GAP), climate-smart agriculture and crop and income diversification.
All the lead farmers participating in this initiative are women. They have established 15 nurseries for cocoa plants that were due to be planted out in June 2020. They are leading the effort to replicate the skills acquired to other members of the cooperatives.
Josephine Francis, CEO of Arjay Farms, said the work ‘should address the equal participation of women at national, regional and international levels and their sustainable development priorities and needs.’