Budding Cocoa industry catches eye of President Sirleaf
Sazanor Town, Lofa County –
ointing to workers at his budding cocoa plantation, Momolu Tolbert proudly told President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, “these are the hardworking people responsible for what you see here today.”
What the president saw Saturday was product of a farm many say is a key source of income for scores of residents here and one of the crowning highlights of a county in need of much-needed developments ahead of this year’s Independence Day celebration.
In two years, the farming initiative development covering 14,820 acres and 6,000 hectares nucleus cocoa plantation matched by a complementary out growers-smallholders program has shown remarkable progress with many pointing to the project as one of the few success stories in Lofa.
The plantation located in Sazanor Town, Quardu-Gboni District in Lofa County lies 20 kilometers from Voinjama, the county’s capital and 414 kilometers from Monrovia, Liberia’s capital.
Residents in the area point the project as one of the crowning achievements of President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf’s government and Senator Kupee, the county’s senior Senator who has been instrumental in facilitating the project to ensure its success.
Last Saturday, the President, making her first stop to the farm was pleased with what she saw.
“This is a great work, thank you for the investment”, the President said as she marveled at the nurseries being prepped for planting.
The project valued a US$3.9 million investment has is 25 percent Liberian owned. In the long term, developers of the area envisions the nucleus estate as a key driver of a revived and regenerated Liberian cocoa industry.
By the end of this year, the company plans to cultivate 447 (four hundred forty seven) ha in both cocoa and plantain planting season of which 60 ha were planted have already been planted. However because the level of production has been low, not much effort has been put into the production of cocoa that meets international quality standard until lately.
Liberian cocoa attracts a discount of 20 percent of the world market price whilst cocoa from countries like Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire earn a premium because of their high quality. The cocoa to be produced under the envisaged project is expected to be world class and to obtain the prevailing world market price.
Cocoa is referred to in many farming cultures as an excellent smallholder crop because it is not as labor intensive as other crops. But its commercial cultivation offers a great opportunity for the country to diversify its productive base away from the current over-dependence on rubber. The Liberia Cocoa Corporation is facing a great opportunity with the development of a large scale cocoa plantation in Liberia. The soils and topography of Quardu-Gboni where the project is situated are known to possess good characteristics for cocoa cultivation. Information from local farmers in the area indicates that the Quardu-Gboni region has been contributing significantly to Lofa County’s share of Liberian cocoa production even in the pre-war period.
Soils test show that although acidic, the soils have the essential elements for cocoa production in adequate quantity and where it is suspected to be less, amendment with commercial fertilizer and compost will give desired yield. Two types of soils are characteristic of this area: namely, clay loam and sandy loam. With adequate rainfall and good soil management practices, both soil regimes can support the establishment and development of vigorous cocoa trees.
The LCC has, as of July 2010, cultivated 60 hectares with two varieties. The varieties were identified as stocks from Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire. These two varieties are of short duration with gestation projected at 18 to 24 months. They are well adapted to the ecological conditions as well as the soils of Ghana and La Cote d’Ivoire. They are said to yield better than previous cocoa varieties which have been grown in the two countries. Information from the cocoa research institutes of these two countries indicates that the varieties can yield up to 2.3 metric tons per hectare). In any case, yield will be lower in the first and last few years of production (i.e. estimated at between 1.6 and 1.9 mt./ha in the first three years and the last five years, respectively). The planting trees per hectare or stand per hectare is given at 1,122 trees.
The cocoa seedlings at the LCC plantation have been intercropped with either banana or plantain crops. Nearly 10% of the banana and plantain trees have reached physiological maturity thus needing harvesting. The banana and plantains appear to be well adapted to the soil regimes although there is a foliar infection of black sigatoka disease probably caused by the fungus (Mycosphaerella spp). The LCC management plans to plant and manage 447 hectares, including the 60 hectares already cultivated. As a result of this objective, a seedlings nursery amounting to about 480,000 seedlings has been developed.
Besides the Cocoa operation, the investors have also been involved in road building and maintenance bridge building to ensure that residents move from one area to the next without problems.