Sierra Leone Seeks to Boost Cocoa Production to Pre-War Rate

Sierra Leone wants to boost cocoa production to more than 25,000 metric tons, the level reached before the country’s civil war, within the next five years and better the quality of beans with programs to plant trees and train farmers in the West African nation.

A working group on cocoa, set up in late 2010, includes non-governmental organizations and state agencies that are trying to increase the harvest of the chocolate ingredient, John Kamara, assistant director of tree crops in the agriculture, forestry and food security ministry, said in an interview on Oct. 8 in Freetown, the capital.

The “war affected the cocoa industry badly and the objective of the working group is to improve on production and other value-added components for the benefit of the farmers and the state,” he said.

Sierra Leone’s economy is forecast to expand 21 percent this year, the fastest pace in sub-Saharan Africa, after the start of iron-ore exports and improved agricultural output, according to the International Monetary Fund. The growth comes as the country recovers from a decade-long civil war fought mainly between Revolutionary United Front rebels and government forces that ended in 2002.

In the first half of 2012, cocoa exports declined 20 percent to 9,250 tons from a year earlier, Joseph Pessima of the research department in the Bank of Sierra Leone, said in an interview, without giving a reason for the drop. In 2011, shipments were 18,000 tons, he said.

Export Volumes

Deutsche Gesellschaft fur Internationale Zusammenarbeit GmbH, the German development agency known as GIZ, and Bonn-based aid agency Welthungerhilfe are part of the cocoa group and are providing training for about 10,000 farmers, Christiane Hornikel, youth employment adviser with GIZ’s Employment Promotion Programme, said in an interview in Freetown on Oct. 9. GIZ spends as much as 400,000 euros ($518,000) annually on the cocoa industry, she said.

“There is a lot of tree-planting going on,” she said. “In the next few years, when these trees are fully grown, we can see that export volumes would go up.”

Improvements in fermentation and drying techniques have boosted the quality of the beans, Hornikel said.

“Some years ago, Sierra Leone was really famous for its bad-quality cocoa,” she said. “It was just going into cosmetics, cream or soap and it wasn’t used for chocolate or any cocoa powder.”

Agriculture accounts for 46 percent of Sierra Leone’s economy and about 70 percent of the population is involved in agriculture, according to the Bank of Sierra Leone. Cocoa prices are set by the government’s Commodity Market Monitoring Unit, with the rate for the 2012-13 season fixed at 5,772 leones ($1.33) a kilogram (2.2 pounds), according to a statement from the agency.

“We have been able to improve on quality, that is why the farmers are now enjoying very good prices for their products,” Mabinty Daramy, deputy minister of trade and industry, said by phone on Oct. 8.

Growers in Ivory Coast, the world’s top cocoa producer, will earn 1,000 CFA francs ($1.97) for a kilogram of beans this season while farmers in neighboring Ghana, the second-biggest producer, will earn 3.39 cedis ($1.80) a kilogram.

Cocoa for March delivery gained 1.4 percent to 1,544 pounds ($2,481) a ton by 9:18 a.m. on the NYSE Liffe market in London.

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