The Produce Monitoring Board in its quest to maintain and improve the quality of exportable produce (cocoa) in the country, had recently conducted Quality Enhancement and Produce Marketing trainings for Produce Examiners, farmers and produce dealers in all the major cocoa producing districts (Kono, Kailahun, Kenema, Bo and Pujenhun) in the country.
This was as a result of the quality check results (Quality and Weight Certificate) PMB is receiving from Produce Examiners attached to the stores of exporters and agents in cocoa producing areas and Freetown. What remained obvious in the prevailing predicament of the produce sector is that the primary responsibilities for quality maintenance and enhancement reside with farmers, produce dealers and Produce Examiners. The reason bbeing;
- Farmers are the ones responsible to properly process and dry their produce
- Produce dealers on the other hand are responsible to buy the required quality of produce and to properly handle and store all exportable produce
- Produce Examiners are there to check the quality of produce in conformity with international standards.
Because of the indispensability of the responsibilities of the farmers, produce dealer, produce examiner and that of quality in the market, the focus of the training was on the farmers, produce dealer and Produce Examiner for further cascading of the training. The efforts of MDAs, especially PMB in ensuring the production, processing and marketing of high quality produce cannot be over emphasized as key to the quality accolades Sierra Leone have received for the past four years from international buyers and commodity organizations.
However, the start of the 2016/2017 cocoa season have seen the resurgence of the Black Pod Disease and the rapid deterioration of cocoa quality across all producing areas due to poor processing technique, storage facilities and a host of other associated problems.
Although some of the phenomena which have attacked the cocoa sector are natural they can more or less be mitigated to a zero or minimal level. Best agro-practices and excellent farm management techniques can mitigate black pod as much as good processing techniques can improve and enhance the quality of produce. Over the years several attempts have been made to undertake a scientific experiment to identify the type of Black Pod that is prevalent in the country and the necessary cure, what have remained evident is the fact that the only Black Pod mitigating strategy that is available presently to secure farms is the effective implementation of best farm hygiene and management practices (effective waste and Shade management, under-brushing, pruning, etc.).
Most farmers, especially cocoa farmers tend to neglect best farm management and processing practices for optimal quality cocoa because of their anxiety for money and the competition among buyers (agents or exporters) to increase their acquired volume. There are also farmers who are less knowledgeable on best farm management and processing practices. The prevailing situation required urgent attention and the need to roll out a training programme to field staff and farmers on the modern techniques of farm management and processing.
The roll out training which targeted 3,000 farmers and produce dealers in all five districts focused on areas like; farm management, harvesting, black pod control/mitigation, fermentation procedures, drying as well as best handling and storage practices for produce dealers, Price Risk Management (PRM), and mass sanitization of residents of producing areas (Kono, Kailahun, Kenema, Bo, and Pujehun) on the operations of PMB and all the afore mentioned topics.
Issues Discussed During Training and Stores Inspection sessions
- Lack of access to farm management tools and nursery establishment materials
- Disbanding or discouraging artificial driers
- Financial assistance to bolster the activities of cooperatives
- The availability of farm clinic
- Protection of farmers and guaranteeing their rights against bad price and theft
- Pests as major cause for under production in Pujehun because of their proximity to the Gola Forest
- Ageing cocoa trees
During the trip across the five (5) districts the team was able to note the following as key findings;
- The indicative price is not reaching people in remote areas, especially in Pujehun District
- The units used as measures for produce weighing is done interchangeably ( pound & kilo)
- PMB coverage of Pujehun District is infinitesimal
- PMB is under-staff in Kailahun to address the issue of bad quality produce entering the country from Guinea and Liberia
- Most produce dealers do not comply with the rules and standards set by PMB
- Farmers don’t have access to farm management tools and nursery establishment materials at a cost recovery price.
Outcomes of the Training-Workshop
During the training and stores inspection sessions participants recommended for PMB to consider the following:
- Participants were encouraged to form Chiefdom Committees to help develop bye-lawsthat would further help in ensuring that quality is optimized;
- Dayoub Trading an Exporter suggested the following;
- PMB to increase the export levy as a penalty on exporters dealing in bad (poor) quality produce
- PMB to request that all exporters forward the quality result of their external buyers for reconciliation with the local quality result
- Three people were identified in Potoru to serve as contact persons for PMB on the ground.
- A participant in Potoru requested that PMB establish nurseries for farmers in the district and he suggested that PMB establish a block farm in area as a demonstration farm