Helping poor farmers grow money in Sierra Leone
Duration: October 01, 2014 – October 01, 2019
Aim: Commercially-driven investments in cash crop production can provide benefits in terms of both productivity and poverty alleviation, providing a win-win strategy for rural development. This project, examines the direct impacts of cocoa investments in post-conflict Sierra Leone for farmers, their communities as well as the cocoa value chain. As such the project aims to upgrade sustainable smallholder cocoa productivity by: improving the governance of the cocoa value chain; improving access to financial services; and enhancing the understanding of globalization, commercialization and agricultural intensification on local food security.
Objective: To provide benefits in terms of both productivity and poverty alleviation, providing a win-win strategy for rural development.
Method: Social science research.
Country: Sierra Leone.
Dutch policy goals: Increase sustainable food production; Improved access to nutrition; and Efficient markets.
Year 1: There was an Ebola virus outbreak in south-western Guinea during spring 2014 which extended to Sierra Leone. As a result we had to halt all research activities as of June 2014 in the region. Our commercial partner at the same time had to halt their commercialisation program, as formal gatherings were forbidden and trainings and organisational capacity building activities could not be organised. Further, due to the quarantine measures key staff could not travel to the proposed implementation area. We were subsequently not able to start this project (official starting date was 1 October 2014). On 7 November 2015 Sierra Leone was declared Ebola free [..], we were able to restart our activities in the area. Consortium partners conducted visits to the proposed block farm locations. Currently, almost 1000 hectares is ready to be leased from local communities, around 6 communities. The field visits confirmed that the project direction has not changed substantially from when the proposal was written. Therefore, we are confident that we will able to answer our research questions. Second, to assist in developing a sampling frame for the baseline survey, we collected GPS data for all of the block farm locations. We will use this data to find suitable communities that are sufficiently far away from the block farms so that we can be confident that they are not affected by the increased market activity there. When we collect endline data we can compare the changes as compared to the baseline. By doing this for both control and treatment villages we can be more confident that the changes can be attributed to the treatment, and not larger changes in conditions. Third, we are in the progress of developing the survey instruments. These are nearly ready to be internally distributed so that each of the consortium partners agrees on their content. We are planning to use tablets to collect data, which greatly decreases data entry errors and reduces survey length, which in turn reduces survey fatigue. This allows us to collect very accurate survey data.
Summary mid-term review: The Ebola outbreak in West-Africa forced all consortium partners to halt their activities. During the crisis we took time to assist the policy community in their effort to understand and control the outbreak. Members of our team served actively on advisory panels. We wrote a blog post and later full paper stressing the need for a community centred approach in combatting the disease and describing some of the social pathways of transmission (see http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pntd.0003567). In February 2016 the consortium partners restarted their activities. AMS BV has entered into partnerships with local communities for proposed locations. On these locations new cocoa plantations will be created. The first seedlings were planted in May. To properly assess the effect of these plantations, the research team has collected quantitative data on 1400 households, in 31 villages. By examining how the livelihoods of these people evolve over the project’s life span we can assess the impact of the project. In this way we can contribute to new and more efficient modes of food production. The baseline survey results confirm the potential for cash crop farming in Sierra Leone. Current cocoa farms are small scale, and yields are low (92 kg/ha). Investors expect that yields upto 1000kg/ha are possible given market conditions and soil quality.
Year 3: Over the past year, the research team has implemented several activities collecting quantitative and qualitative data related to large scale investments in the agricultural sector. To understand the macro level context, at national level we implemented a mapping exercise to learn what commercial agricultural investments are currently taking place. Zooming in, we completed a comprehensive baseline survey around one cocoa investment project to assess the key drivers of productivity and crop failure. Farmers face numerous challenges including black-pod and low outpur. In addition, we studied key changes in the cocoa value chain, ie linking producers, via business to consumers. Most research on cocoa value chains concentrates on large scale producing countries such as Ghana and Ivory Coast. Very little is known about smaller countries such as Sierra Leone. A key difference is that farmers in Sierra Leone are not organised in cooperative activities creating dependence on traders or so-called middlemen.