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EU, Liberia Mark 50th Year with Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry Pledges


Top: Boats prepare for a competition in Robertsport to mark the 50th anniversary of Liberia’s relationship with the European Union. The DayLight/Esau Farr

By Esau J. Farr

The European Union (EU) has said it would continue to invest in Liberia’s agriculture, fisheries and forestry sectors both the bloc and the country celebrate 50 years of relations.

“We continue to stand ready to support Liberia’s priorities for sustainable and inclusive development, peace and security and a world where there is peace and security,” said Nona Deprez, the head of the EU Delegation in Liberia at an anniversary event in Robertsport, Grand Cape Mount County recently.

“The European Union is looking forward to working with the government of Liberia in all efforts to resolve its full implementation to increase trade between our regions, ECOWAS and the EU, particularly in agriculture, fisheries and forestry products,” Deprez told the anniversary audience.  

The EU’s relations with Liberia go as far back as 1973. During this period, the EU has invested millions in Liberia’s agriculture, fisheries, and forestry.

The sectors are crucial to Liberia’s economy but have been poorly managed over the years.

“You need to develop the economy so, you need to make sure that when you develop economically, you don’t have to deplete your resources. If you deplete your resources, that means development will not be sustainable,” Deprez added.

Martus Bangalu, the deputy national authorizing officer of the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning, said the support of the EU to the fisheries sector of the country must be laudable by all. She urged the leadership and members of the fishing communities in Grand Cape Mount to hold together for progress and development.

“The Fisheries sector has huge potential that we must all top into. Despite of the numerous projects the EU has in Liberia, [it] chose to celebrate with the fisheries sector today; that shows how important this sector is,” Madam Bangalu told members of the fishing communities there.

Lake Piso in Robertsport, Grand Cape Mount County, was chosen as the venue for the anniversary celebrations of the EU-Liberia partnership in collaboration with the Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF) and the fishing communities. Started in 2019, EJF is rolling out the implementation of a four-year fisheries project in Grand Cape Mount, Margibi, Grand Bassa and Grand Kru, sponsored by the EU.

The head of the European Union Delegation to Liberia Nona Deprez, third from the front, and her entourage at the event. The DayLight/Esau Farr.

“We are working with the government of Liberia to ensure that its developmental agenda is achieved,” said Cephas Asare, EJF’s West Africa regional manager in an interview with The DayLight.

“The collaborative management association is meant to bring the participation of resource users and the community to engage and to support the fishery management that the National Fisheries and Aquaculture Authority (NaFAA) is supposed to do,” Asare added.

The celebrations ended with a boat race amongst the three regions of the fishing communities in the western Liberian county. Robertsport’s Kru-Town won the race.  

Targeting European Markets, Nimba Farmers Eye ‘Organic Cocoa’

Ambassadors in cocoa farm

Top: EU ambassadors pose for a picture with their entourage, a farmer of Monleh Enterprises at a farm in Saclepea, Nimba County. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue

SACLEPEA, Nimba County – Farmers in Nimba are learning to produce high-quality cocoa beans to trade on markets of European Union (EU) countries. 

About 2,500 farmers are now being trained in organic cocoa production, according to Monleh Enterprises, a cooperative based in Saclepea, Nimba County. 

“We want to link with markets [in Europe],” said Rachel Mulbah, the CEO of Monleh Enterprises. She was speaking at the tour of the cooperative’s facilities by EU ambassadors and their entourage in Saclepea recently.  

“Monleh also wants to export in order for the farmers to get good [a] price,” Mulbah said. 

Organic cocoa refers to beans that meet sustainability standards required by the EU. With emphasis on the health of people, the soil and the environment, the organic cocoa are grown without the use of fertilizers and pesticides. 

Liberia may not be a powerhouse of cocoa like Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana. However, Liberia has a unique variety of the crop, something market experts say is a rarity on the global market. 

‘Queen of Liberian Cocoa Beans’

The farmers of Monleh Enterprises understand their niche and are getting there. It finished number one in a trade fair in Cote d’Ivoire, according to Mulbah. It exported 12 metric tons of premium cocoa to Italy earlier this year, which had rejected its consignment last year, she said. Premium cocoa is of the best quality, too, but it does not have a certification program like organic cocoa. 

Rachel Mulbah, the CEO of Monleh Enterprises, which has some 3,500 farmers, 2,500 of whom have been trained to produce organic cocoa that can be sold in European Union countries. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue

Monleh farmers are getting their organic cocoa training from the NGO Grow Liberia as part of a US$6 million project funded by Sweden. They learn good agriculture practices that avoid deforestation and the use of harmful chemicals and bad harvesting methods.  

The farmers also learn to make their productions transparent and traceable, a pillar of the certified cocoa scheme of the EU, the world’s largest cocoa market. 

Mulbah urged the EU ambassadors to provide more support to the group to achieve its organic paper. 

“We want to get modern equipment for farming, which, of course, will reduce child labor in Liberia,” Mulbah said, handling the delegation a memo containing the requests. 

“Monleh wants to develop its own nursery. Monleh wants to see farmers’ lives improved,” Mulbah added. Urban Sjöström, the Ambassador of Sweden, called her “the Queen of Liberian Cocoa Beans.” 

Dr. Charles Sackey, Grow Liberia’s team leader, said the farmers were already producing organic cocoa, just that they do not have the certificate.

“Working with the farmers in Liberia, we have seen that there is little use of chemicals. So, the farms are, by default, organic,” Sackey said as EU ambassadors viewed a solar drier for cocoa beans, a suspended platform with transparent plastic roof. 

“Once you sell on the European market, you want to prove that it is organic, and not by default,” Sackey added.  

As it stands, Liberia exported US$38 million cocoa in 2021, the 21st largest cocoa-exporting country worldwide, according to the World Bank. The Netherlands is the biggest importer of Liberian cocoa, with US$19.2 million in 2021. 

The head of the EU Delegation to Liberia Laurent Delahousse urged the farmers to work harder to maintain high standards. 

I want to reassure you that your approach is our approach… We are addressing support problems to agriculture as supposed to food systems, and cocoa makes [a] wonderful food,” Delahousse said.  

“Liberia will not compete on big volumes of low-quality cocoa. Liberia can only compete on smaller volume of very high-quality cocoa. 

“You have a variety in this country that is unique, which gets a premium on the world market but you have to build your value chain from production to …in France, Switzerland, Belgium, Sweden, Ireland and elsewhere,” Delahousse added. 

The other envoys on the tour include Jacob Haselhuber of Germany, Michael Roux of France, and Simon McCormack, the Second Secretary at the Embassy of Ireland. 

A portion of a cocoa farm in Saclepea, Nimba County recently toured by European Union ambassadors. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue 

Visit Gives Ambassadors Clues To Community Forestry Challenges


Top: A signboard at a logging company’s camp in the Gheebarn #1 Community Forest in Compound Number Two, Grand Bassa County. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue

By James Harding Giahyue

COMPOUND NUMBER TWO, Grand Bassa County – Five ambassadors organized an exchange among locals, a logging company and the Forestry Development Authority (FDA) to get the gist of the challenges of community forestry. 

It took one and a half hours for the envoys from the European Union, Sweden, France, Germany and Ireland to get what they were looking for. Leaders of the Gheegbarn Community Forest and West Africa Development Incorporated (WAFDI)—and the FDA—presented a perfect picture of one of forestry’s most problematic contracts. Each of the three actors took open aims at one another, as they entertained questions from the ambassadors.

The ambassadors on the visit were Laurent Delahousse of the European Union, Urban Sjöström of Sweden, Jacob Haselhuber of Germany, Michael Roux of France, and Gerard Considine of Ireland. The spouses of the five men also graced the occasion.

Larry Tuning, a member of Gheegbarn’s community forest leadership, started with WAFDI’s unfulfilled required projects in their December 2018 agreement. He criticized the company for not paving farm-to-market roads, erecting schools clinics and handpumps, and underwriting the costs of quarterly meetings.  He, however, praised the company for meeting scholarship, land rental and log-harvesting payments.

Asked whether he would recommend commercial logging in community forestry, Tuning’s response was obvious. “It is hard for me to tell my friends to say ‘Get into it,’ because I [am] facing too many problems,” Tuning added as staff of WAFDI, sitting opposite looked on. “Instead of going into logging if had the support I would go into conservation.” Community forestry is a crucial part of Liberian forestry, giving rural communities the right to comanage their forests.

‘Let them go’

Tuning continued for several minutes, tearing into WAFDI on labor issues. He said the company had contravened a clause in their agreement, which mandates it to employ 60 percent of its workforce from the community. Dugbormar Kwekeh, another member of the community leadership buttressed his comments—and in a dramatic fashion, too.

(R-L) Urban Sjöström, Ambassador of Sweden; Jacob Haselhuber, Ambassador of Germany; Laurent Delahousse, Head of the European Union Delegation; Michael Roux, Ambassador of France; and Gerard Considine, Ambassador of Ireland. The five envoys listen to leaders of the Gheebarn #1 Community Forest in Compound Number Two, Grand Bassa at an information and fact-finding tour of the west-central county on March 9, 2023. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue

“They are just extracting our logs and there is nothing we are benefiting from,” Kwekeh said in Bassa through an interpreter. Gesturing as she went along, with an audible voice, she expressed frustration and fury. “The company came to subject us to poverty.  “Let them go from here. Another company can take us from poverty.”

Gualberto Ojo, a Filipino who represented WAFDI in the meeting, denied preventing locals from farming. In fact, he accused them of farming on a portion of the 26,363 hectares of forestland they contracted to the company in Compound Number Two, Grand Bassa County.  

“The company cannot stop the community people from farming; is not for us to say that it is the source of living,” said Ojo. “Most part of the forest is all farming activities, so because of this and other reasons the forest is not really productive.

Dugbormar Kwekeh, a member of Gheegbarn #1 Community Forest tells European envoys about challenges with commercial logging in that part of Liberia. On the far left is Larry Tuning, the secretary of the community forest. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue


Before responding to Kwekeh’s comments, Ojo took a well-timed swipe at Tuning, who is a chainsaw miller. Tuning’s mention of pit-sawing had led to indistinct muttering among FDA representatives at the meeting. Also called pit-sawing, chainsaw milling began after the Second Liberian Civil War (1999-2003), and efforts to regulate the sub-sector have failed so far. It has wreaked havoc in forests across the country. Ojo, said, that included Gheegbarn #1.  

“Pit-sawing is one major challenge; it has taken over the forest,” Ojo said, who said he first spotted the illegal activities in 2020. He said WAFDI had told the FDA about it. “People are doing pit-sawing all in the forest now.” 

Human settlements and factors affecting the global logging industry were other issues, according to Ojo. A company representative said there were people from the neighboring Bong County living in the forest, and that the coronavirus and the ongoing U.S.-China trade war.  

“During that four years the market on round logs collapsed totally,” Ojo told the diplomats.

Workers of the West African Forest Development Investment (WAFDI) an information and fact-finding event organized by European ambassadors. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue

‘We were like turtles’

Then entered the FDA, represented by Deputy Managing Director for Operations Joseph Tally and a host of top-level managers. There was an announcement from Weedor Gray, the technical manager of the community forestry department for periodic reports from communities. And more questions came.

“Have you ever come to the FDA to request for harvesting or export data?” Gertrude Nyaley, the technical manager for the legality verification department, asked Tuning. Nyaley’s rhetorical question was a response to Tuning’s earlier reply to an envoy about WAFDI’s production and export records. Tuning had said the community did not get the documents, and only accepted fees the company paid. Production records, in particular, are crucial in calculating harvesting payments, known in the industry as cubic meter fees.

Nyaley further pressed Tuning whether he and Gheegbarn’s leadership had informed the townspeople of a US$18,000 WAFDI paid. That question caused a stir among villagers at the event. Tuning encountered a rebuke from a local named Sylvester Williams, who had suggested community benefits were being misused. William disagreed with Tuning that the leadership supported villagers’ farming activities, bursting into a peal of frenzied laughter. Tuning said Williams was busy with his motorcycle taxi and was unaware of community matters. That pushed the community forestry drama to its highest peak. In a phone interview with The DayLight on Sunday, Tuning denied misapplying the fund, saying the leadership had already informed the community about the payment.

Tally, dressed in khaki uniform like all the managers of the FDA, thanked the European ambassadors for the event. “We were like turtles, and you put fire on our backs,” he said.

Joseph Tally, the deputy managing director of the Forestry Development Authority (FDA) speaks at the event. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue  

Tally’s comments were a reference to criticisms of the rise in forestry violations and the trade of illegal timber. Both the national and international media have published reports of logging wrongdoings, involving the FDA. It was a major issue at last month’s forest and climate forum, where Liberia reassured its commitment to combat illegal logging and climate change in its pursuit of climate financing.

But talking about the correction of past wrongdoings, Gheegbarn #1 was the right place for Tally and his team. Last year, a Ministry of Justice investigation found the FDA awarded WAFDI excess forest blocks. The report, seen by The DayLight, cut the deal between the company and the community from 15 to seven years. Several senior managers were replaced in the fallout of the scandal. The parties have signed a new agreement.


Delahousse said the delegation had not come to condemn any of the actors. “This was not a trial of the company. This is a fact-finding information mission, and for us, it was very important to be here and to hear all the various stakeholders,” said Delahousse.

Delahousse said he learned that community forestry was “complicated,” a “bit of a bobble,” and lacked transparency. He urged communities to consider conservation programs instead. Of the dozens of community forests, only a few have a conservation management program. Others have scrapped it to accommodate mining.

“We need to work also on seeing how conservation can be an alternative for some communities,” Delahousse said.  “Maybe they can make more money from conservation.”

After the meeting, the ambassadors and their entourage toured a portion of Gheegbarn Community Forest with the FDA. The visit ended with a trip to the log yard of Kisvan in Buchanan, which operates in the Central Morweh Community Forest in River Cess.

Workers of WAFDI load logs into a container at the company’s log yard in Compound Number Two, Grand Bassa County in September 2022. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue