Au Liberia, $ 5 millions sont nécessaires pour réhabiliter les filières cacao et café
Pour Nyah Mantein, directeur du Liberian Produce Marketing Corp., il faut retrouver les niveaux de production d’avant guerre (interview en anglais)
Après des années de guerre, les secteurs cacao et café au Liberia ont besoin d’être totalement réhabilités. Nyah Mantein, directeur exécutif du Liberian Produce Marketing Corp (LPMC), a participé aux réunions annuelles de l’Organisation Interafricaine du Café (OIAC) et au Premier Forum sur les cafés africains qui se sont tenus à Yaoundé la semaine du 19 novembre. C’est alors qu’il a livré à CommodAfrica son analyse.
First of all, can you say a word on LPMC ?
Let me first tell you what the Liberian Produce Marketing Corporation (LPMC) is. It is a state owned enterprise. The LPMC is 100% owned by the Liberian government. It was created by an Act of the National Legislature in 1961 primarily to promote the export trade of Liberia to the highest extent possible. Initially, on the onset of the formation of the Corporation, it heavily dealt with palm kernels, cocoa and coffee. But for some reasons, palm kernels got discontinued and currently the Corporation is dealing only in cocoa and coffee.
But as you know, Liberia has suffered civil wars for the past 14 to 15 years. As a result, the LPMC was affected. Those services it used to render to farmers across the country had to be discontinued because of the level of devastation done by the war.
LPMC is an agricultural parastatal. The chairman of the Board is the Minister of Agriculture. In fact, as we speak, as part of government’s reform agenda, the minister of Agriculture in collaboration with the FAO is coming out with an agricultural policy. For the first time, part of our agricultural policy is going to take into serious consideration the coffee and cocoa sector. So in a short time, we are going to have a clear cut policy on what is going to happen to the sector in the next 5 years, 10 years and beyond.
What is the overall situation of the coffee sector ?
During the pre-war era (Liberia is a small country), we had about 12 000 to 15 000 tons (t) in cocoa and the same volumes in coffee per annum. But because most coffee and cocoa farms were abandoned, they were taken over by the bushes as a result of the war. Production level has been drastically reduced to the extent that you are talking now about levels of less than 6 000 t of coffee per annum, and maybe 6 000 to 7 000 t of cocoa.
We need today to rehabilitate these farms. There is a need for new capital to be invested into these farms. There is also a need for new farms to be planted if we are to revert to pre-war production levels. Massive rehabilitation work is required.
Does LPMC handle the exports of coffee ?
LPMC is not directly exporting at the moment. We give franchise to exporters. There are about 4 or 5 of them (Liberia Marketing International – LMI ; Georgia Enterprise ; Tropical Produce Industry – TPY ; Liberia Commodity Export Company – LCEC ) who are directly exporting these commodities to buyers abroad at their own choosing. Some send cocoa and coffee to Europe. But it’s LPMC who does the processing of coffee and cocoa for exporters who then export to their buyers abroad. We have all the processing facilities.
The exporters are mainly Liberians, 95% of them. They are private business people. We have one or two that are not Liberians but they are registered under the laws of Liberia to do business.
How many processing units does LPMC run ?
About 5 cocoa dryers. They are all operational at the moment. However, there is a need for replacement of some parts. Some equipment date back to pre-war era so there is a need for technology changes.
What is your level of production this year ?
The cocoa season just started two months ago; we have not done much yet. By January-February, we enter the coffee season. In two months, we should come out with actual statistics. Now, it is too early.
Who did Liberia export to last year ?
Exports were mainly to Western Europe. About 4 000 to 5 000 t were exported.
There are no big operators like Cargill or on the distribution side, Starbucks or others, who show interest? Are there Chinese or Asian operators getting involved ?
What are the price levels for cocoa and coffee this season and are they set by the State ?
The price is set by the State through LPMC. For this year, the price computation is done along world market price. So there are two price structures : the farm gate price is 95 cents per kilo for cocoa ; when the produce is brought to the port of Monrovia, it is $ 1.03 per kilo.
As for coffee, we will set the price when the season approaches.
Last year, the prices were a little less. As the world market price increases, we increase the minimum price to the producer. This is the minimum. Buyers or traders cannot go below but they can go above.
Concerning rehabilitation of the sector, what is your policy today and your objectives ?
Let’s talk about cocoa. We get a little bit of subsidy from the government and a portion of this subsidy is used to start the rehabilitation of some of the farms. But the subsidy is not enough to bring production to pre-war levels. So we are appealing to the international community, international NGO’s, etc. to help us achieve our agenda.
One of the cooperation we got was from Mercy Corp., an international American based organisation. They are primarily involved in agricultural activities. We signed less than two weeks ago a MOU (Memorandum of Understanding) with them to begin a rehabilitation of one of the cocoa farms (Compound n°2) in Grand Bassa County. The MOU covers a period of one year ; US$ 50 000 is put to rehabilitate the farm and to create a nursery for cocoa. At the end of the whole project, cocoa seeds will be distributed to the farmers so that they can replant their farms. This is a demonstration farm of 78.2 acres.
This is the type of assistance farmers want because they are interested in replanting. This is the first opportunity we got since the inauguration of the government almost two years ago.
This is just in one county and there are 15 counties in the country. So we are calling on other international organizations to help us achieve our reform agenda.
What is the amount of the government subsidy to help rehabilitation?
It’s just a small amount to pick up salaries, pay personnel. But we decided that something had to happen to start the process of rehabilitation. Maybe in the next budget year, we will be asking government for more substantial financing to go into rehabilitation. For this year, the LPMC is just starting to rebuild its activities. So we didn’t get much money in the budget for this particular year.
We are writing up now a proposal and submit it to organizations in Liberia that are agriculture based. So in the next few days, we might be knocking on the door of, for example, FAO to help us. We want also to talk to the African Development Bank, UNDP, etc.
How much would you need to rehabilitate the coffee and cocoa sectors ?
Considering the level of devastation, because almost all of the farms are down, the minimum would be $ 5 millions to start a 5 years rehabilitation of selected farms.
What is your target for production over the next 5 years ?
We would like to go beyond pre-war production, and reach 10 000 to 15 000 t.
For coffee and cocoa ?
The two of them are very important. But most people, as of now, are actively involved with cocoa. It’s just because there has not been assistance for a long time in the coffee sector. But the awareness will be created with our involvement in this IACO conference. The cocoa and coffee farmers will know that there is need for rehabilitation.
But, for you, is cocoa more important than coffee ?
Not important, but people are giving preference to cocoa because it is faster in terms of revenue generation. So a lot of people go for that. But coffee is equally important once farmers know that they will have an assistance, a package to develop coffee, and they start thinking they will be able to make money. They start hoping. For the last 14 years of war, their hope was lost.
In coffee, if you look back at pre-war production, were there particular Robustas that you could in the future promote as gourmet coffees or other well paid market segments ?
Right now, our Central Agricultural Research Institute (CARI) is trying to see whether they can do special research on bringing higher yielding coffee.
What do you expect out of the coffee week in Yaoundé ? How many are in your delegation?
We are two : the Planning and Research Manager and myself.
One of the things we expect is that Liberia has been at war for close to 20 years and the whole country is devastated. There is a lot of work that has to be done. One of the area of focus is the rural people, the farmer. We look forward in receiving a concrete statement from IACO as to what countries like Liberia, DR Congo, Sierra Leone, that have been at war, can benefit from IACO, whether it be technical or financial support. But something has to be done by IACO in the years ahead that will positively impact the lives of member countries that have been at war.
Since we have been at war, we owe money to IACO and ICO. But we intend to discuss with the secretary general of IACO who will connect us with people of ICO to find exactly how we can be readmitted in ICO.