Cocoa farmers utilize the Farmer Support Centres for essential items and services
Cocoa, which was once a major export crop for Sierra Leone, suffered a considerable decline following the country's 11-year civil war. Since then, the country has strived to revive its cocoa production industry and boost its value chain and competitiveness, but low productivity has long affected the country’s contribution, and smallholder farmers have had to bear the brunt of it.
Inadequate and ineffective agricultural services, such as access to farm inputs and extension services, which are imperative for increasing the production of the cash crop, have equally been a challenge.
Making services accessible
Solidaridad, as part of its efforts to improve sustainable production of cocoa in the country, introduced the Farmer Support Centre in 2018 under the second phase of the Cocoa Rehabilitation and Intensification Programme, funded by the Netherlands government. The programme is using the support centres as a hub to supply 12,000 cocoa farmers in Sierra Leone with a variety of services to enhance their productivity, improve their incomes and livelihoods.
Established as a private-sector-driven vehicle to deliver production and marketing services for smallholder cocoa farmers, the Farmer Support Centres serve as a one-stop-shop that delivers services, such as improved planting material, agrochemicals, fertilizer and crop protection, as well as extension and financial services.
It is also intended to provide a platform for new knowledge development, access to affordable financial services, and the delivery of other livelihood enhancement and community development services within the cocoa communities.
Partnerships for success
To ensure the continuous operation of the service centres after completion of the programme, Solidaridad is supporting private cocoa companies in Sierra Leone to adopt and integrate the service centres in their business models for sustained delivery of services to cocoa producers.
Randlyn Holdings, a major partner working with Solidaridad on the programme in Sierra Leone, has opened six Farmer Support Centres in its areas of operation (Gelema, Falama, Kangama, Madopolahun, Buedu and Koi Dua).
Some farmers previously had to walk for 20-25 miles to access farming tools, but that has changed with the setting up of Solidaridad’s Farmer Support Centres” -Nyumah Tengbeh, Randlyn Holdings Limited
“I know farmers had serious challenges accessing services, especially farming inputs. Usually, farmers get inputs from mobile cocoa beans buyers who buy their cocoa in a pittance, leaving the farmers poorer,” says Nyumah.
Leveling the playing field
He notes that the centres have leveled the field for all farmers, adding that the days when farmers with limited capital used to go to Kailahun or Kenema to purchase farm inputs or engage in barter trade with mobile sales operators and merchants because they had no funding are now a thing of the past.
The support centres serve 4,522 farmers within the Kissi Teng, Kissi Tongi, Kissi Kama and Luawa Chiefdoms of Sierra Leone and provide services such as tools, hybrid cocoa seedlings, farm maintenance services, community extension services, and Village Savings and Loan Association (VSLA) scheme.
“We believe this is the right direction our partners ought to take, as we continue with our efforts to increase production and maximize the quality of cocoa and other cash crop production,” says Nicholas Jengre, country representative, Solidaridad Sierra Leone.
He notes that the successful implementation of the cocoa programme depends on private cocoa companies’ commitment to co-invest in the service provision mechanism to guarantee quality extension support and service delivery to farmers.
The Farmer Support Centres reduce barriers to services by centralizing access points
The Farmer Support Centre is in line with Solidaridad West Africa’s Cocoa Rehabilitation and Intensification Programme, which seeks to promote sustainable productivity, profitability and competitiveness of the cocoa sector in Ghana, Cote d’Ivoire, Sierra Leone and Liberia. After successfully implementing the first phase of the programme, the second phase was launched to speed and scale up within the cocoa supply chain through the creation of Small and Medium Enterprises to deliver market-based intensification and rehabilitation services to farmers.
Beyond Sierra Leone, the cocoa programme has also established Rural Service Centres in other operational countries across the region: eight centres have been established in Cote d’Ivoire, 17 in Ghana, and 30 in Liberia. Over 1,000 cocoa-growing communities are currently benefiting from the services of these centres.
So far, 29,500 farmers have benefited from the programme in Cote d’Ivoire; 13,594 farmers in Ghana; 30,000 in Liberia; and 11,620 in Sierra Leone.
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