Sierra Leone looks to become West Africa's ethical option - FreshFruitPortal.com

Sierra Leone looks to become West Africa's ethical option

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Sierra Leone looks to become West Africa's ethical option

Revived after two decades, the Sierra Leone Produce Marketing Company (SLPMC) has been approved as a fair trade body through FLO-CERT.Sierra_Leone_0002_(7542297444)

With a focus on ethical production, marketing manager Henry Yamba Kamara explained that SLPMC will seek to set Sierra Leone apart for buyers in Europe and North America.

For cocoa and coffee in particular, Yamba said Sierra Leone hopes to stand out from much bigger regional players that  currently dominate export markets.

"Our export volume at the moment is 18,000 metric tons [for cocoa], which is very small compared to countries like Ivory Coast and Ghana. So the only thing left for Sierra Leone is, how can we become innovative to make sure our product is accepted?" he said.

For fair trade producers, certification is expected to come with the dual benefit of ethical treatment and international appeal.

"The establishment of the SLPMC is described by many as one of government’s policies aimed at boosting internal and external trade for food security, guaranteeing foreign exchange earnings for the country, generating youth and general community employment, ensuring better control over quality of exportable agricultural goods, and securing a steady future for Sierra Leone's market, thereby fostering economic development and poverty reduction," Kamara said.

The company will also place focus on preventing child labor and upholding environmental standards, he said.

"The way you can ensure compliance is by record keeping and constant monitoring to ensure that children are not used in production. It’s sometimes very difficult to monitor. We have also advertised the use of produce field officers. These officers will work between the producer and the company," he said.

As demand for ethical goods grows in the U.S. and on European markets, Kamara hopes to drive international appeal by certifying more farmers and creating a common fair trade brand.

"As a company, we recognize that the continued  existence of the produce market and its sustainable growth depends on how well we secure and make available for sale quality agricultural produce in the export market and local processing industry at an economic price, whilst guaranteeing fair prices to local farmers," he said.

"An export-oriented agricultural marketing company such as SLPMC ... must therefore, know precisely what the current market requirements are and produce to those specifications. It is hoped that the new SLPMC will stimulate long-term sustainability of linking the farmer in Sierra Leone to international markets with highly competitive products."

Beyond coffee and cocoa, ethical products could also include palm oil, cashew, ginger, cassava and rice. As the company forms international partnerships, the availability and selection will become more defined.

In contrast to Sierra Leone's former marketing body - Sierra Leone Produce Marketing Board - SLPMC will shift part of the company's control to integrate ownership by farmers and the public.

SLPMC will function under a public limited liability structure, with the government controlling a 51% share and the public expected to hold 49%.

"We used to have the Sierra Leone Produce Marketing Board. This board until 1992 was the breadbasket of this country," Kamara said.

In the 1990s, the board was forced to close due to a number of social and political factors, including a devastating civil war. Since then, Sierra Leone's market has undergone extensive deregulation.

"Since that time, because the markets were not regulated, they became open. During that period, we saw a drastic decline in produce and a drastic decline in our traditional exports.

"In 2008, the current government saw it necessary to bring back the board. But we are not bringing back the board as a government-controlled company. We are bringing it to encourage sellers’ unions to participate."

With the return of a regulatory board, Kamara said SLPMC hopes to provide a platform to uplift farmers and promote Sierra Leone as West Africa's emerging ethical option.

Photo: Rice farming in Sierra Leone, by Steve Evans via Wikimedia Commons

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