Our Sustainable Journey to LiberiaAugust 6, 2012
Today’s blog post comes from the manager of our sustainable landscapes team in West Africa, Christian Mensah.
I’ve arrived in Liberia to see history in the making.
Cocoa farmers in the counties of Lofa, Bong and Nimba have made a choice to work together toward a more sustainable future–a first for Liberian farmers and a first for the Rainforest Alliance. Their efforts will be a critical line of defense against the extensive depletion of Liberia’s forest cover, largely due to farming, and threats to valuable tree species in or near protected areas. In addition, they will boost the conservation strategy of the Liberian government, which has already declared most of these valuable species threatened and is canvassing for support among farming communities, the private sector and international NGOs to monitor and address illegal activities in the country’s national park.
I will be working with Yaw and Vincent, colleagues from the Conservation Alliance, one of our key partners in West Africa. Escorted by our driver Tamba, we plan to spend the duration of our trip working to understand how these three counties could implement Rainforest Alliance certification. We are also working to identify impediments to the development of sustainable supply chains.
Our most urgent concern is that farmers don’t have the resources necessary to make informed decisions about certification and sustainability. In order to ensure the long-term sustainability of the cocoa supply chain, it is critical that we provide producers with information about best practices in sustainable agriculture.
In March, a group of farmer representatives from Liberia attended a stakeholder certification workshop facilitated by the nonprofit ACDI-VOCA Liberia, funded through the USDA Livelihood Improvement and Farming Enterprises project. As a result of the workshop, producers opted to work with the Rainforest Alliance to implement practices that will increase yields, protect natural surroundings, and foster the well-being of families and communities.
We’ve traveled here to conduct a diagnostic assessment with these farmers that will light the path to sustainability. As we work to assess the challenges and benefits of farming in Liberia, I will share our lessons with you through this blog.
At present, the Rainforest Alliance is calling on the chocolate industry to support sustainable agriculture in Liberia. With training and the support of development organizations, local farmers will be in the best position to devise solutions to their problems, contribute directly to the protection of their environment, guarantee their children access to education, improve gender equity and secure a sustainable livelihood for their families.
Our private sector partners can support these producers –and the long-term sustainability of their practices–by looking to Liberia as a potential source for sustainable cocoa. Farmers seem eager to acquire this information, so this is an opportune time to support efforts on the ground.
Liberia’s landscape is rich in biodiversity and lush rainforests, but cocoa productivity is relatively low. Sustainable cocoa production can become a tool to prevent further deforestation and stabilize the regional economy, so we must work together to improve current farm practices, increase productivity and harness market forces to this end.
These farmers want to reverse the trend of deforestation. They are committed to giving their customers the guarantee that the cocoa beans used to make chocolate are sustainably sourced from a place where biodiversity is conserved and sustainable livelihoods are ensured.
Look out for Christian’s next blog about our experiences in Liberia and our plans to work with local farmers toward a sustainable future.