Cocoa: How a Liberian company is preparing for its first exports after COVID-19

Liberia has been greatly affected by armed conflict and the Ebola crisis in recent years. It is also one of the world’s poorest countries. For cocoa producers, there are many challenges related to the cocoa value chain, market linkage, and poverty. The COVID-19 pandemic is yet another challenge that must be overcome. For the women-led, fine-quality cocoa producer Monleh in Liberia, the CBI Mano River Union project provides new perspectives and hope for the future.

Better futures for women and youth

The traditional name ‘Monleh’ roughly translates to ‘easy-going – no violence’. The high number of women employed in the business helps to maintain a culture of friendly and responsible cooperation. CEO Rachel Mulbah works hard to help improve the position of women in Liberian society. Many of the country’s men died in the conflict, and the youth needed empowerment and education. A successful agricultural production system helps life to continue in rural areas. By employing women and young people, Monleh helps them to create better outcomes for themselves and their families. The company has village coordinators in every community, and around half of them are women. They communicate with some 7,000 small farmers.

New perspectives

Monleh was established in 1981. Still, it has only ever supplied its cocoa to exporters located in Liberia. It joined the CBI project in October 2019 as it wanted to gain export knowledge and assistance to enter the European market. The company learnt a lot during a market orientation mission to the Netherlands and Belgium early in 2020.

“Our company benefitted greatly,” explains Rachel. “Our representative was able to meet buyers, manufacturers of equipment and warehouse operators. They also got trained at the European Markets Academy at the Chocoa trade fair in Amsterdam. The sample beans that we took to Brussels and Amsterdam were rated high-quality. We also visited bean-to-bar shops. We talked to companies like Daarnhouwer Incorporated, which sources and distributes fine-flavour cocoa beans. We are very grateful to have been able to make these connections.” 

Knowledge sharing on CSR   

Many European cocoa importers are concerned about the use of child labour in production. And transparency is sometimes difficult to achieve. Rachel is very clear on this matter: “Monleh strictly follows Liberia’s labour laws. It does not buy cocoa from cooperatives or farmers using any form of child labour.”

CBI’s Corporate Social Responsibility module helps Monleh to share knowledge on CSR within its network of small-scale farmers and collectives. This helps to communicate how important the topic is. Monleh recently took part in extra training activities together with GROW Liberia. The activities focused on certification and other forms of quality assurance activities.

Adapting to change

As with many businesses, Monleh currently has to deal with the effects of the coronavirus pandemic. Rachel explains: “COVID-19 has slowed down our activities. We are still buying, but we have reduced the total amount of cocoa we buy. We cannot process in our warehouses like we used to do due to time restrictions and the curfew. Still, we have not dismissed workers and have transferred people to do other essential work at the factory and in the field. Fortunately, no one has caught the disease.”

New horizons

The CBI export project has helped Monleh gain a new perspective and provided some hope despite COVID-19 restrictions. “The trade shows were great, especially the presentations on insurance and the process of containerisation of cocoa for export. I feel the biggest single gain is the awareness of export requirements for cocoa into the European market and the possibilities that exist for the export of high-quality Liberian cocoa. The potential for Monleh is huge.” With a potential new European importer already lined up, the future is looking bright.

New hope

Hopefully, with Rachel’s continued hard work, Monleh will expand its markets, spread its risk, and achieve further growth.

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