ACDI/VOCA end support to oil palm farmers

As the global demand for palm oil shows no signs of slowing, Liberian farmers need more ways of boosting their productivity and income. Because of deforestation and other risks linked to palm oil production, they also need sustainable, environmentally-friendly ways of doing so. Since 2011, the economic development organization ACDI/VOCA has supported smallholder oil palm tree farmers in Liberia through programs funded by the United States government.


As the global demand for palm oil shows no signs of slowing, Liberian farmers need more ways of boosting their productivity and income. Because of deforestation and other risks linked to palm oil production, they also need sustainable, environmentally-friendly ways of doing so. Since 2011, the economic development organization ACDI/VOCA has supported smallholder oil palm tree farmers in Liberia through programs funded by the United States government.

As the global demand for palm oil shows no signs of slowing, Liberian farmers need more ways of boosting their productivity and income. Because of deforestation and other risks linked to palm oil production, they also need sustainable, environmentally-friendly ways of doing so. Since 2011, the economic development organization ACDI/VOCA has supported smallholder oil palm tree farmers in Liberia through programs funded by the United States government.

To strengthen the palm oil value chain, this year, the program paired farmers with the Liberian seed supplier Rainforest Agriculture Enterprise (RAE). Then, the program imported 200,000 seeds of pre-germinated, high-yielding, and disease-resistant F1 tenera oil palm seeds from the National Agricultural Research Center (CNRA), an international breeding center in Cote d’Ivoire.

Forty-five nursery operators in Liberia got involved by helping grow the seedlings. They bought three-fourths of the seeds imported and covered the costs of running the nursery until they could sell the seedlings to out-growers, or contracted buyers. By the August 2017 planting season, the program expects nursery operators to sell up to 125,000 of the 150,000 seeds they bought. Currently, farmers have 100,000 oil palm seedlings covering 740 hectares of land. Once harvested, they estimate earning US$600,000, which would make a large dent in rural poverty.
Previously, communities struggled to process enough quality oil palm to meet the demand. The SHOPS II program trained manufacturers and vendors of processing machines in business and financial management. It also trained seven machinists from Bong, Nimba, Lofa, and Grand Bassa counties to fabricate and use Freedom Mills. These mills surpass the traditional pit process in efficiency, especially manual mills that transport easily and need 30 percent less labor and 75 percent less time.

More than 6,000 people now have access to 400 manual and 40 motorized mills, which all contribute to the “Made in Liberia” brand. To show local farmers how to use the mills, 235 community demonstrations took place. The program also designed a new prototype Freedom Mill for processing dura palm fruits to help farmers diversify their incomes.

To keep them connected, the SHOPS II program created a data collection system at 23 trade centers, so that all actors in the value chain could access price, demand, and availability. It also held two trade fairs and took part in others hosted by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the World Food Program, and government partners. The program trained 584 farmers, processors, manufacturers, and others, including 303 men and 282 women, in best business practices and marketing. All trainings aimed to include at least 45 percent women. They also received coaching and mentoring in financial recordkeeping.

Although local banks refused to lend to farmers, despite making several visits, the SHOPS II program helped farmers form their own village savings and loan associations (VSLAs). Four of the seven VSLAs created formally registered with the Liberia Business Registry. These groups allowed farmers to pool their earnings and offer loans to one another on credit.

Volunteers on assignment with ACDI/VOCA through the USAID Farmer-to-Farmer (F2F) Program came to Liberia from the United States to share their expertise. Oil palm farmers learned about intercropping, or growing crops among other plants. They learned how planting corn, cassava, and other crops could lead to more food security and income generation until the oil palms come into full production. They also learned how to prevent soil erosion and protect wildlife habitats. Volunteers even helped install simple irrigation systems at seven nurseries to cut down on labor and seedling morbidity.

Despite the SHOPS II program soon ending, farmers and nursery operators will maintain a reliable link to seed providers, who can guarantee the same seeds, and local garages that can manufacture and repair mills. With better planting materials, mill technology, and business skills, farmers involved in the program feel positive about having sustainable livelihoods long after the program ends.

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