The CPC model aimed to retain land under customary ownership throughout, without reducing community land access for food production and provide secure tenure rights for the cocoa farmers recruited, while ensuring improved cocoa production, sustainable land management and a sustainable income stream. WHH also planned that the CPC model would inform national policy development on responsible agricultural investment, with a view to wider adoption of the model. The project also sought to establish a foundation for a longer-term effort to develop a community-owned cocoa enterprise. The aim was to go beyond existing ‘block farming’ models for improved cocoa production, in which cocoa traders provide inputs and cocoa offtake services to enable groups of smallholder producers to sell into export markets, in return for a share of the crop.
The aspirational CPC model envisaged an agribusiness fully compliant with VGGT principles, to be incubated with the support of a business partner acting as farm manager holding clusters of cocoa production sites released by neighbouring land holding families. The farm manager would be responsible for improved production by locally recruited workers, farmer training, and business management for an initial period of 15 years, following 4 years for crop establishment under a revenue sharing arrangement with the landowners and workers. The plan was then to divide the land into small scale commercial farming divisions for allocation to selected workers and master farmers to manage operations for a further 15 years, during which the farm manager would gradually withdraw whole remaining as trustee, and to transfer the business as a whole into community ownership at the end.
The project had four target investment areas comprising 13 villages located in three Chiefdoms of Dea, Luawa, and Kpeje Bongre (all in Kailahun District). The original business partner was BALMED, a local Sierra Leonean cocoa trader also engaged in the block farming approach.
- For an explanation of the CPC model and the project’s overall goals see WHH’s Spiral project brief.
- WHH also produced a summary comparison of main features of Cocoa Block farming as practiced in Sierra Leone with those of the proposed CPC model.
During the project, WHH also commissioned an investigation into existing and potential alternative business models for agri business development in Sierra Leone by researcher Raoul Hermann: report available here.
Without sufficient incentives or guarantees of returns for long term engagement, BALMED unfortunately decided to withdraw from the project after almost two years, citing difficulties of access to the investment target areas, higher than anticipated labour supervision costs, and inability to meet community requests including assistance in construction of access roads. Without a business partner the CPC model was not viable, so WHH assumed temporary and partial responsibility as stand-in s agri-business operator to take forward implementation of the project. As this created a potential conflict of interest for WHH as an NGO working on behalf of the community, WHH opted to create an independent social agri-business and made contacts with potential financiers, cocoa off-takers, and manufacturers to pitch the CPC model and raise investment funds.
In view of this abrupt change, and following a field assessment mission to review options, LEGEND decided to fund a project exit strategy that included completion of the ongoing work judged to be useful in the national context, but falling short of original project ambitions and discontinuing activities which required active contribution of a business partner.
- A participatory land tenure assessment and participatory land use planning exercise in 4 villages, to test and demonstrate methodologies to understand complex customary tenure rules and practices involving both women and men from amongst land owning families, family members and other community land users and stakeholders. Full report and guide to the methods adopted available here.
- Development and agreement of a detailed land lease agreement template, undertaken by legal support NGO Namati, for land released to the company by the participating communities and land holding families and the returns expected from the company.
Because of the exit of the original business partner and the risks involved in this continuing long -term agribusiness development venture, LEGEND decided not to support WHH’s new strategy to develop the project by setting up its own company. With its own funds and initiative, WHH has since registered a spin-off company called ‘Lizard Earth’ to act as a new business partner to provide farm management services. It has also retained Namati’s services to negotiate and adapt the land lease template to requirements of the local community land owners in each participating village. Lizard Earth will then lease the land and act as trustee, temporary land owner and farm manager during the first phase.
For details of the new social agribusiness company objectives and aspirations: see the Lizard Earth company presentation.