As part of the revival of the Sierra Leone Produce Marketing Company (SLPMC), a growing focus on fair-trade certification is emerging. Given Sierra Leone’s limited production compared to other West African countries in commodities such as cocoa (18,000 tonnes per annum), ethical certification is seen as an important vehicle for product differentiation. This will include efforts by SLPMC to prevent the use of child labour in cocoa production and promote more environmentally sustainable farming practices.
Developing a focus on ethical certification is seen as an appropriate response, given the growth in demand for fair-trade and ethically certified products in Europe and the US. SLPMC aims to “stimulate long-term sustainability [by] linking the farmer in Sierra Leone to international markets with highly competitive products”. This applies not only to cocoa, but also to coffee and even potentially palm oil, cashew nuts, ginger, rice and cassava.
According to press reports in August 2013, SLPMC received fair-trade certification from FLO-CERT, the inspection and certification body for Fairtrade Foundation products. SLPMC is now “certified to buy and sell cocoa, coffee and similar products” under Fairtrade conditions.
While the focus on the growing market for ethically or sustainably certified products is consistent with evolving consumer demand trends in major overseas markets, there will be substantive challenges in ensuring that the certification delivers net benefits to farmers.
Choices will need to be made over which certification schemes to adhere to. Different schemes carry different costs and yield different net benefits (see Agritrade article ‘ Constraints on product differentiation in the Pacific’, 13 June 2013).
While SLPMC has now received certification from FLO-CERT to buy and sell produce under Fairtrade conditions, agricultural producers will still need to meet the label’s standards. This is likely to require a strengthening of farmer organisations to ensure that they have the capacity for sustained compliance.
Farmers will need to meet organisational, environmental and labour standards, and the changes will carry costs that need to be more than covered by the price premiums attained, if net benefits are to be gained. (For more details on the challenges faced in securing net benefits from third-party certification schemes, see ‘ The costs and benefits of fair-trade certification in Fiji’, 23 June 2013.) This will require significant improvement in the logistical management of the collection and storage of products in order to reduce overall supply costs.
While SLPMC is committed to working with farmer organisations in getting to grips with these challenges, the newly established company will need the financial resources, and managerial and logistical capacities to effectively compete with established private traders.