Liberia: Cocoa Exporters Condemn Commodity Regulatory Plans to Monopolize Sector
Monrovia – The National Liberia Cocoa Exporters Association (NALICEA) has expressed dismay over plans by the Liberia Agricultural Commodity Regulatory (LACRA) plans to monopolize the cocoa sector.
Sheik Turay, president of NALICEA, said the plan by LACRA is dangerous, unscrupulous and meant to destroy the cocoa sector.
The sector has over 30,000 smallholder cocoa farmers and if the monopolization is done it will destroy the investments made in the sector over the last decade by smallholders, cooperatives, the government of Liberia and the international donor communities.
“We, therefore, condemn this act of LACRA authorities in the strongest terms and consider it unpatriotic, diabolical and undermining of the development agenda of President George Weah’s Pro-poor development agenda.”
Turay said the proposed monopoly would destroy all hope of the revitalization of the cocoa sector and put fear into Liberians, who have invested in cocoa, oil palm and other cash crops.
In an interview with Deputy Director General for Technical Services Musa Konneh, the Liberia News Agency disclosed that LACRA will shortly have just a single exporter of cocoa due to the rigorous reform inspired by the authority’s five-year Strategic Plan seeking to make the sector economically viable.
He said that when LACRA came into effect a year ago, there were 17 exporters of cocoa; but that number was reduced to nine.
Liberia sadly exports between 15 to 20,000 metric tons annually worth around US$50 million despite having the same climatic and topographic conditions as neighboring Côte d’Ivoire, which is the world’s biggest exporter of cocoa.
“This means we will have one exporter in the country and the rest could be agents, who will sell to that exporter. Like that, it will make it easy for our own record system, quality and quantity control of the commodity leaving the country,” said Konneh.
Moreover, he indicated that interest amongst international partners and big business people to invest in cocoa in Liberia is rapidly growing because citizens are taking cocoa and coffee farming very serious in several counties, including Grand Gedeh, Nimba, and Grand Cape Mount, which “highly” impresses LACRA.
On the question of how the agro-commodities regulator could contribute to government’s coffers, Konneh said: “Before we do that, we have to increase our productivity as an institution. With that we can start to collect royalty from exporters based on metric tons like the old LPMC (Liberia Produce Marketing Corporation) would collect US$50 per metric ton.
“Since we came into effect a year ago, we’ve been working on policies to reach the point of generating revenue for government, which could start maybe by the end of the year when it will be harvest season for cocoa. But for now, the government is supporting LACRA with funding until it can stand on its own to reciprocate,” Konneh said.
But Turay said Konneh and the Managing Director of LACRA John Flomo have no knowledge on the Act creating the entity.
According to him the liberalization of the cocoa sector has resulted in cocoa farmers receiving six times the price for their cocoa compared to pre-2008 prices.
“This has encouraged 30,000 farmers to rehabilitate their cocoa farms, improve their livelihoods and contribute to the national economy and foreign currency earnings for the nation,”
“All this would be destroyed immediately by this proposed monopoly and the sector returned to the dark ages,” Turay said.
The NALICEA president said both Flomo and Konneh’s utterances clearly demonstrate that they don’t even know why the transformation of LPMC to LACRA took place and how important it was to encourage the cocoa sector after decades of neglect and decay.
According to him, in 2008 only few exporters (mainly Lebanese) were given the opportunity to export cocoa beans from Liberia with the registration fees of US$10,000 per annual. He further stated that this denied Liberian exporters to participate in the sector market.
Turay narrated that the foreign exporters were giving smallholder farmers L$25/kg and were not encouraging working through producer organization such as cooperatives until USDA sponsored project, Livelihood Improvement for Enterprises (LIFE), in 2008 when ACDI/VOCA worked with IITA/STCP-USAID sponsored to safe the cocoa sector and rescued smallholder farmers.
“We wouldn’t allow them to monopolize, so we will fight them by all legal means because we told Flomo that it will not work.”
He said if the proposed monopoly is accepted, Liberian will be the first to allow such.