Bad roads block Liberian cocoa farmers from AfCFTA promise

Roads become impassable in the rainy season, trapping fresh produce in the interior. (Photo: Lucinda Rouse)

By Lucinda Rouse, Daniel Finnan

Getting cocoa to market on Liberia’s treacherous roads is no joke. Like Liberia, many African countries hoping to take advantage of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) will require heavy investment in basic road infrastructure. In this episode of Talking Africa, we follow cocoa beans from harvest to coast.

The AfCFTA, which came into effect at the beginning of the year, has been heralded as a major step in increasing intra-continental trade with the potential to stimulate growth, industrialization and generate an additional $450bn for African countries by 2035.

In his annual address to the legislature last month, Liberian President George Weah described the AfCFTA as “a milestone achievement for Africa in terms of the promotion of trade amongst citizens of the African Union” and said he would forward the agreement for urgent ratification, joining the 36 countries that are already fully signed up.

But connectivity issues, including weak transport infrastructure and the added costs that come with it, have been flagged as a significant challenge to the success of the initiative across the continent. Liberia will be no exception, given the deplorable state of much of its road network, with motorbikes the primary means of transporting goods and passengers in rural areas.

In this report, we follow the journey made by cocoa beans from farms in rural Nimba County to the point of export in Liberia’s capital, Monrovia.

The experiences shared by one cocoa trader, George Howard, demonstrate just how much of a hindrance poor transport infrastructure can be to stimulating trade of a high-value commodity.

They also help to explain why, despite being only a stone’s throw across the border from the world’s largest producer (Côte d’Ivoire), Liberia’s cocoa industry and the farmers supplying it continue to lag behind.

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