Increasing incomes of farmers

Organic and fair-trade exports from Africa


Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone is probably the most challenging country for the project. It is still recovering from a civil war that ended in 2002. When the project started farmers had hardly begun to rehabilitate their cocoa plantations. Work to rebuild the main road from Freetown to Bo had just begun and the roads in the main cocoa growing areas were in terrible conditions, with trucks with cocoa frequently getting stuck in the mud or breaking down. Furthermore, many young people who had grown up during the war had received minimal education, and there was high competition for skilled people.

In this environment Kpeya Agricultural Enterprise tried to build up its export capacity and get certified Fairtrade to enter the fair-trade market and increase the incomes of its member farmers. The project decided to support them.

In May 2008 the project organised a national workshop on the potential of organic and fair-trade export for Sierra Leone. This attracted many government officials, representatives of farmer organisations and other support programmes.

A group of people inspects cocoa that is dried on a bamboo platform.
The FFS programme introduced drying on mats to improve the quality of the cocoa. Photo: C.E. Dankers, 2006.

Cocoa exports

Kpeya Agriculture Enterprise (KAE) is a cocoa association that was founded in 1996 by four cocoa farmers and village chiefs from Peje West and Yawei chiefdoms in Kailahun districts. It survived the civil war and had been instrumental in obtaining some work for food programmes for its members. KAE sometimes sold cocoa for its members to traders in Kenema, but had never exported. KAE expanded its activities to more chiefdoms in Kailahun and Kenema districts.

When the project started there was no formal organizational structure, and the project assisted KAE to draw up a constitution and register its members. With help of the Ministry of Agriculture KAE set up a Farmer Field School (FFS) programme  to assist its members to rehabilitate the plantations and re-introduce fermentation and drying methods to obtain high quality cocoa. Improving quality is very important but also very difficult, because local traders pay a price per weight irrespective of quality, giving farmers an incentive to sell wet cocoa. As a result, on the international market Sierra Leone cocoa is sold with a big negative quality differential. In 2007 the FFS programme was extended from 30 to 50 FFS groups, involving over 1000 farmers.

In February 2007 KAE shipped its first container and in January 2008 KAE obtained Fairtrade certification. However, one of the main problems KAE faces is that farmers are indebted with traders and are obliged to sell cocoa to them instead of KAE, even if KAE offers a higher price for good quality cocoa. To address this, KAE introduced more strict membership rules, with members having to supply at least 50 pounds of cocoa on credit, for which they will be paid only at the end of the season. This cocoa should then generate enough funds to buy and ship more cocoa. In 2008, the new rules have resulted in a reduction of the number of members to around 300 farmers, but allowed KAE to collect enough cocoa to qualify for pre-financing from another project.