Farmers Associations in Sierra Leone and Liberia Leveraged to Improve Crop Production and Boost Incomes

Farmers Associations in Sierra Leone and Liberia Leveraged to Improve Crop Production and Boost Incomes
July 10, 2020 4:26 pm Blog

By Nouhou Ndam


West Africa’s forests are rapidly disappearing, with only 10% left to shelter both wildlife and humans alike in what had been a massive forest complex stretching from Guinea to Cameroon and covering 680,000 square kilometers (km2). To halt and reverse the deforestation threatening the remaining forest cover (70,000 km2), including the 3,500 km2 within Liberia and Sierra Leone’s shared Gola Transboundary Forest Landscape, there must be a balance between conservation efforts and the well-being of forest-edge communities.

There are currently more than 300,000 people living near the Gola Rainforest National Park in Sierra Leone and the Gola Forest National Park in Liberia combined, and many of them are farmers. Unfortunately, the farmers often engage in practices that are destructive to the forest, including planting crops within the forest and shifting cultivation, which results in the destruction or degradation of forests to cultivate crops. These and other activities are harmful to many of the forest’s already threatened species, such as the pygmy hippo, forest elephant, forest buffalo, western chimpanzee, red colobus monkey, large-headed shrew, zebra duiker, rufous fishing owl, white-breasted guinea fowl, and numerous reptiles, amphibians, butterflies, dragonflies and damselflies. The forest is also extremely rich in plant life, with close to 1,000 plant species so far recorded, of which 232 are tree species. Of the 278 woody plants of West Africa’s Upper Guinea forests classified by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)* as rare or threatened, 67 are found in the Gola Transboundary Forest Landscape.

Understanding this, the USAID-funded West Africa Biodiversity and Climate Change (WA BiCC) program has both initiated and supported a variety of livelihood initiatives geared toward helping farmers not only to learn and practice sustainable farming methods, but to organize themselves into farmers associations with the goal to earn more from their crops and learn from each. This is an important change because in Gola, like in many similar landscapes, cocoa farmers mostly operate alone and sell their cocoa individually to traders. However, there are many benefits for farmers to be organized: they can have a stronger voice, receive a higher price for their cocoa through negotiating collectively, have easier access to services and training, and join certification schemes.

The concept of cocoa farmers banding together to form an association was introduced in Gola Sierra Leone in 2017 by WA BiCC grantee the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), in collaboration with partners the Gola Rainforest Conservation Guarantee Limited (GRC LG) and Jula Consultancy. RSPB then duplicated the initiative in Liberia in 2019, with Liberian partners the Society for the Conservation of Nature, Liberia (SCNL) and Vainga Agriculture Development and Management Consultancy (VADEMCO) serving as program implementers. Both initiatives build on the efforts of government and partner organizations to empower local communities in key forest corridor areas to become active and collaborative stewards of their natural resources, which underpin their livelihoods.

Sierra Leone Initiative

In Gola Sierra Leone, close to 2,000 farmers were recruited from 82 communities in four chiefdoms to engage in cocoa farming business development. Consistent with WA BiCC’s aim to promote gender equity and social inclusion in all activities and practices, there was a concentrated focus to ensure female farmers were also encouraged to be fully and equally included in this work.

The farmers were clustered into three associations: Gaura Cocoa Farmers Association (GACFA), comprising 446 farmers (22% women) from 13 communities of the Gaura chiefdom; the Tunkia-Koya Cocoa Farmers Association (TunKoCFA), comprising 470 farmers (15% women) from 34 communities from both the Tunkia and Koya chiefdoms; and the Malema Cocoa  Farmers Association (MACFA), comprising 850 farmers (27% women) from 35 communities of the Malema chiefdom. Each association developed a constitution to ensure proper governance and decision-making processes were agreed upon that, among other elements, included policies and practices related to gender, environmental stewardship and child labor.

To ensure transparent and effective leadership, each association’s members selected executive leaders they collectively felt had the right skills for the task. The three associations were then clustered into the Ngoleagorbu Cocoa Union (NGOCFU), headed by 10 representative leaders chosen by members of the three associations. All leaders were trained on effective governance, teambuilding, management, record keeping, quality production and fair-trade standards.

Soon, 13 cocoa collecting centers located across 82 communities where farmers could sell their cocoa were established. Each farmer can drop his or her cocoa at the collection center, which makes it much more convenient for buyers to purchase the cocoa, as opposed to potential buyers going to individual farms as was previously the case. A buying officer for the specific collection center keeps track of each farmer’s cocoa, sells it to visiting buyers/traders, and is responsible for paying the farmer for all cocoa sold.

Another benefit of using the collection center is that the cocoa is sold at one standard price per kilogram, which is promised to be at least 10% above the average price of cocoa per kilogram when the cocoa is purchased from individuals. Before, farmers often sold their cocoa for much less than the market value, or even less than what their neighbor was getting, either because they were unaware of the market value or were in desperate need of cash. Having a set price per kilogram for cocoa that is above the average price helps all members of the association earn more. However, farmers are able to price their cocoa as they see fit when selling on their own farms or at local markets.

The results so far have been promising. Farmers selling their cocoa within the NGOCFU typically earned between 5,000 to 12,000 Sierra Leonean Leone (SLL) per kilogram prior to joining the association. Through selling through the association, the selling price of their cocoa rose to between 10 SLL and 25 SLL.

Farmers such as Maa Cecilia of the Gaura Chiefdom have credited the association for boosting their ability to grow and sell cocoa.

“As a widow, the support of USAID/WA BiCC and its Gola partners has helped me rehabilitate my cocoa farm and learn new techniques. I can also help other farmers who are not yet part of our association, she said. “Thank you to WA BiCC, GRC LG and Jula for helping me and my family regain confidence in cocoa production.”

Alaji Kaba of the Malema Chiefdom is also looking forward to leveraging his new knowledge and association membership to improve his cocoa farming business.

“I will rehabilitate all my farms, get good production, and our association will help sell it with good money,” Kaba explained.

Jula Ngoleagorbu Cocoa Producer’s Union organogram


Liberia Initiative

In Liberia, WA BiCC has assisted farmers in the Kawelahun and Fornoh communities involved in cocoa, rice and groundnut farming to organize themselves into two farmer-based organizations (FBOs). In addition to receiving new ideas and information from VADEMCO on how to grow crops more sustainably, the farmers received small business training, including on record keeping, and each FBO developed and approved operational and governance constitutions and bylaws. The FBOs were then grouped under the Sokpo Multipurpose Farmer Association (SOMUFA) composed of approximately 61 active members (24 women and 37 men).

The FBOs have also been instrumental in creating strategies for the organization’s members to earn more money from their crops, including by offering buyers a standard price. Unlike in Sierra Leone, however, the collection centers are normally at one of the member’s homes at a central location. The farmer who owns the home records what each member brings to sell and then is responsible for selling it to buyers.

Through the FBOs, the farmers also share best practices, learn new skills and provide actual physical support to each other in growing their crops.

Within individual communities, the farmers have worked out a system in which they rotate helping on each farm. A group of farmers will assist one member with tilling, planting, weeding and harvesting their crops so it can be done faster, and provide guidance in the process. In addition, it is common for the farmers to buy tools, such as as a group to get a lower price.

As with farmers in Sierra Leone, the training and assistance Liberian farmers have received through being organized into associations has helped them immensely.

“This training is the first of its kind in the history of our community,” said Moses Dugba of the Kawelahun community. “Now I know how to prune and treat diseases on my cocoa . . . I know I will get plenty cocoa from my farm.”


*Established in 1964, the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species has evolved to become the world’s most comprehensive information source on the global extinction risk status of animal, fungus and plant species.

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