Nelly Bassily | August 11, 2008
In the years before the civil war, Kolubah Gayflor grew cocoa on his farm in northern Liberia. Cocoa provided his only income and the means to sustain himself. Now that peace has returned to Liberia, Mr. Gayflor and thousands of other farmers desperately want to re-establish there livelihoods. But several obstacles stand in the way.
Liberia’s 14-year civil war left the country’s agriculture sector and basic infrastructure in ruins. Cocoa trees were left untended. They were occasionally harvested, sometimes by people other than the owner. Farmers returning to their land after the war found their plantations in poor condition and their access to markets even worse. These days, cocoa trees are often valued only as firewood.
Macarthur Pay-Bayee is the manager of the Sustainable Tree Crops Program-Liberia, an initiative to support cocoa farmers and restore value to cocoa trees. He explains that farmers who rehabilitate their cocoa plantations struggle to sell their crops for a good price. Since the road system is poor, farmers usually sell to any traders who show up at their door. In these situations, farmers have little bargaining power.
The Sustainable Tree Crops Program is working to ensure that cocoa farmers have the resources they need to produce good yields and get their product to market. To date, some 900 farmers from Lofa, Nimba, and Bong counties have participated in field schools to brush up on their pest management and quality management skills. These 900 trainees have shared their learning with nearly 2,000 others.
All of the trained farmers will receive access to hybrid cocoa plants – varieties from neighbouring Ivory Coast, the world’s largest cocoa producer. The hybrids are high yielding and disease resistant. They are also early-maturing and should bear fruit within three years – two years earlier than traditional varieties.
Mr. Pay-Bayee says that farmers are currently harvesting as little as 150 kg of cocoa per hectare. With the new resources and lots of determination, he hopes to see farmers like Mr. Gayflor harvesting up to 800 kg per hectare.
In this post-war period, farmers are also re-establishing cooperative groups. At the community level, farmers’ groups will grow hybrid seedlings in nurseries before moving them to plantations.
The shortage of marketing connections and good roads are challenges that farmers can’t address on their own. The Sustainable Tree Crops Program hopes to create market links for Liberian cocoa. The Liberian government, meanwhile, has expressed a commitment to rebuilding the country’s road network.