Cocoa farming is predominately carried out by smallholder farmers not only in Liberia but in most cocoa producing Countries.
In the case of Liberia, 80% of farmers that own larger and producing farms are owned by old aged farmers ranging from 50-75 years. These farmers don’t have the physical and financial ability to sustainably manage their farms and at the results most of their farms have been abandoned. These farmers go into the farms and scout for ripe cocoa pods and take to the community general markets to sell in order to survive for that day.
During VADEMCO farmers’ registration process in 2019, hundreds of old folks raised questions about the possibility of providing assistance to rehabilitate their abandoned cocoa farms. According to many of the old folks, they lack the energy to rehabilitate their farms after losing family members who previously helped them to the deadly Ebola disease.
Their children have either left them to go to urban cities to seek paying jobs or greener pastures, or elsewhere out of their reach. As a result, old folks harvest few pods & wet beans to sell at general local markets in economic turbulent times to solve domestic problems.
The old folk cocoa farmers concern is aligned with the Solidaridad project strategy aimed at engaging youth constructively and helping the elderly to rehabilitate their farms under Solidaridad West Africa-Liberia (SWAL) Cocoa Intensification and Rehabilitation Programme (CORIP) in Liberia.
It is in an effort to promote sustainable cocoa production, productivity, profitability and competitiveness primary by youth and private sector supply actors like VADEMCO in the cocoa sector of Liberia through Centre for Cocoa Development (CCD).
In February 2020, VADEMCO embarked on the rehabilitation of the old folk farms in Bong and Lofa Counties in Liberia and it was overwhelmed with requests. VADEMCO sees a need to assist these aged community people to increase the production and productivity of their farms to reduce their dependency on already overburdened rural household as a means of improving rural life.
The activity is also designed to constructively engage community youth by organizing them into volunteer Cocoa Development Brigades (CODEB) whose members are youths with the responsibility of providing labour under the farm Management services (FMS/FAMAS) for the old folks farms.
Currently, resource levels available to VADEMCO as business entity are insignificant in relationship to the needs in the project community.
In 2020 cocoa season, VADEMCO targeted 50 old folk farmers to be rehabilitated and to provide full farm management services to these farms but due to limited resources, only 16 farms were fully rehabilitated.
We are providing other farm management services including harvesting, processing and marketing of the cocoa beans from their farm. Additionally, we have organized, trained and provided Basic AG-input/tools to 10 Cocoa Development Youth Brigades to carry out the farm management services of the old folk farms in their community.
The Brigades are paid by VADEMCO to provide the farm management services and in return the old folk pay back during their cocoa harvest, for the labour costs only.
VADEMCO also advance cash with zero-interest loans to farmers who have more than 3 acres (1.1 ha) to help assist their household for food during dome period (hunger time — less available food in the rural communities in Liberia- July –August).
This has brought joy and smiles to both old folks and youth in the rural communities where the current VADEMCO activities are ongoing.
In order to motivate both the old folks and the brigades during COVID-19 pandemic, VADEMCO provided stimulus package including hygienic/sanitary materials and food stuff to help enhance their cocoa farming activities.
At the onset of this cocoa season, VADEMCO gave one of the old folk farmers Mr. Moses Barclay, whose 9 acre farm was rehabilitated L$50,000 (US$254) as a stimulus soft loan (zero interest) to assist his family.
He cried saying
Why are you doing so much for me and my family? Over 20 years we have not realized even L$10,000 per cocoa season. I wonder you will get your money back?
With tears running down his chin. He concluded by saying VADEMCO where have you been and farmers need such organizations to help develop our fragile cocoa sector.
This story was written by Mr Suliman Kamara, the CEO of VADEMCO. Nick Baskett made some minor edits for publication.