Sierra Leone Telegraph: 16 March 2019:
Following last week’s discussions between the Ambassador of Brazil to Sierra Leone – Kaiser Araujo and the Sierra Leone Produce Monitoring Board (PMB) Executive Chairman – Dr. James Vibbi, the ambassador has visited cocoa farms in Kenema and Kailahun Districts on the 6th to 8th March 2019 to obtain first-hand knowledge of the challenges facing cocoa farmers and how they can be helped.
Speaking to farmer cooperatives at the PMB office in Kenema, Ambassador Kaiser Araujo told farmers that his embassy is keen to work with the PMB to support cocoa farmers in Sierra Leone; and spoke of the fruitful meeting he had with Dr. James Vibbi and the PMB Operations Coordinator – Didan Sankoh in Freetown on 1st March 2019.
Ambassador Kaiser said that his Brazilian Embassy is looking to partner with the PMB to help improve the quality and quantity of cocoa production in the country, based on a project proposal that the PMB will submit to the Embassy for funding consideration by the government of Brazil.
He commended Dr. James Vibbi for his leadership of the PMB and proactiveness in trying to develop the country’s agriculture industry and attract more investors, especially the cocoa sector.
Addressing farmers, the Executive Chairman of the Produce Monitoring Board (PMB) – Dr. James Vibbi spoke about the mandate of the PMB, which he said is to regulate, promote and improve the production, processing and marketing of farming produce in order to optimize the export earnings of farmers; and encourage the production of quality produce that meet international standards.
He said that his aim is to achieve the vision of president Julius Maada Bio and the New Direction government, assuring farmers that under his leadership the transformation of the PMB will be visible in the country.
“From the practical experience gained from framers, we discovered that there are a lot of challenges in terms of quality, lack of scholarship in the area of under bushing, lack of pre financing, lack of new techniques and technology. Most of the cocoa trees are very old and in need of rehabilitation and replacement in order to increase production yield,” says Dr Vibbi.
Speaking about how best to improve quality cocoa production in the country, Dr. Vibbi said that “PMB is presently engaging several institutions in the cocoa value-chain to see how to address those challenges; and as an institution we are now in the process of procuring quality testing equipment such as moisture meters, magra cutter/guillotine, sensitive scale, thermometers, hand lenses, etc.; as well as establishing produce testing mini laboratory at the PMB office in Freetown.
He said that recently, he has engaged also with the Chinese Ambassador to Sierra Leone in discussions, exploring possibility for establishing partnership working between the Chinese Embassy and the PMB.
The farmers said that they are delighted to have the Brazil Ambassador visiting their farms. They expressed thanks and appreciation to Dr. Vibbi and his new team of innovative thinkers at the PMB for creating such business development opportunity.
The Ambassador visited four cocoa farms owned by the Teibor Cooperative in Kenema District, the Kpandebu Dama Coperative in Kenema District, the Tonbolu Cooperative in Kailahun District, and the Maloma Cooperative in Kailahun District.
The farmers spoke about how they have been struggling to produce cocoa to the required quantity and quality, because of the immense challenges they face accessing quality enhancement equipment such as fermentation boxes, solar dryers, storage facilities, etc. They stressed that most of their cocoa trees are old, and replacing them requires skilled labour. The process they said, is highly expensive.
Engaging in Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) is also a challenge given the high number of farmers that needs support, and the limited capacity of PMB in meeting the needs of all farmers.
The farmers are calling on the government through PMB to continue supporting the cocoa sector in the country, as cocoa is their lifeblood.
Speaking after the tour of the farms, the Ambassador said: “The practical experience I got from farmers is that there are a lot of challenges in cocoa production, especially in the area of processing quality cocoa, pre-financing of farmers by certain exporters and lack of knowledge in the new techniques of technology in cocoa production”.
But sounding confidently hopeful, he said: “I was impressed to see farmers’ cooperatives in the cocoa farms visited”, as he commended Dr. Vibbi and his team for their proactiveness. He assured them of his commitment to work with the PMB in support of the farmers.