Juice Worth the Squeeze
Sierra Agra Inc. joins the Sustainable Juice Covenant and partners with Dutch co.’s IDH, Woord en Daad and Fair Match Support on 1.1 million euro grant program to train and expand its 3,500 smallholder farmer network
Sierra Agra Inc. (Sierra Agra) is the only juice processing company in Sierra Leone, West Africa, currently exporting organic juices and concentrates to the global market. Sierra Agra sources organic certified tree ripened mangoes and coconuts from a network of over 3,500 smallholder farmers who source from approximately 190,000 mango trees. In 2018, Sierra Agra produced over 700 metric tons of organic mango concentrate. The Netherlands based NGOs IDH and Woord en Daad have partnered with Sierra Agra and Fair Match Support (FMS) to launch ‘Juice Worth the Squeeze’, a two-year program aiming to train and expand the farmer network. As part of the program, Sierra Agra has recently become a member of the Sustainable Juice Covenant (SJS) - www.idhsustainabletrade.com/initiative/sustainable-juice-covenant.
The SJC is a global initiative to make the sourcing, production and trade of fruit and vegetable derived juices, purees, and concentrates 100% sustainable by 2030. Sierra Agra is the first processing company to join the Sustainable Juice Covenant.
Wade Watson, co-founder of Sierra Agra said, ‘Sierra Agra is excited to be the first organic commercial fruit processing company to join the Sustainable Juice Covenant. We source from over 3,500 smallholder farmers, of which 90% are women. Working with IDH and the SJS, we are more than excited to grow our farmer network and improve the lives of many through creating this important supply chain from farm to collection point to factory. We are the only company in Sierra Leone, West Africa, currently exporting juice and juice concentrates to the EU.’
Funded by IDH and Woord en Daad, Juice Worth the Squeeze is a training and expansion program directed at improving the farming skills and income of Sierra Agra’s farmer network. Sierra Agra, with the help from FMS and implemented by Jula, FMS’s Sierra Leonean local subsidiary, will manage the program. The program will include sharing proper tree maintenance, composting techniques, land clearing, mulching, early ripening techniques to extend the season, and supplying inputs such as seeds, organic fertilizer and irrigation solutions. The program will train farmers on how to manage pesticides whilst keeping the mango crop organic. Another goal of the comprehensive training program is to transfer knowledge from commercial agronomists that specialize in tropical fruits to the 3,500 farmers stretched throughout many districts and communities in Sierra Leone.
IDH expects to produce an independent Service Delivery Model (SDM) and aims to track how the social and economic impact training will improve the lives of the local farmers.
Sierra Agra’s farmer network is made up of approximately 90% women farmers. Sierra Agra provides 60 collection points where farmers bring their organic mangos for sale. The company has a contract with each farmer and maintains both a database with correspondence and an Internal Quality Control System. A large percentage of the farmer network has gone through an audit by EU based Control Union which lead to the official certification of organic mango. Additionally, Sierra Agra’s recent Organic certification results in higher sales prices.
Rachel Cobb, Communications Director and project leader for Sierra Agra, recently facilitated the first set of meetings between Fair Match Support and several of the Sierra Agra farmer groups. “We met with hundreds of farmers well ahead of the mango season and the feedback was tremendous. It was encouraging to hear the impact Sierra Agra’s investment has made on each community. It’s important to recognise that although farmers aren’t satisfied with the quantity of mango sales, they are happy with supplying Sierra Agra and grateful for the opportunities to sell larger volumes. The quality of life has drastically improved for the farmer group due to receiving bulk income. The majority of money being spent is going to their children’s education. This program would give more responsibilities to our full-time extension workers and would mean there is more Sierra Agra presence in the field on a regular basis,” said Ms. Cobb.
The initial focus group type meetings provided a baseline for findings and feedback. During the first week of meetings, farmers expressed that the income from mango goes towards school fees, books, pens and uniforms. The only source of bulk income the farmers receive is during the approximate 75-day mango season from mid-April through the end of June. Historically, local traders buy their mango at a better price but at a much lower volume and often on loan. Subsequently, often their reason for failure to pay is that the mango spoiled on the way to the capital city of Freetown. Farmers expressed they have issues with fruit flies and pesticides and have requested training on how to avoid this in an organic manner. The farmers shared that since Sierra Agra trucks started arriving on a regular basis, they have noticed less mosquitos due to the fact that less mangoes are left to rot, and attract these and other pests. In Sierra Leone, mosquitos spread malaria, typhoid, yellow fever and other deadly diseases. Above all, the farmers say that mango is a reliable crop and that during mango season they can afford to buy food. None of the communities visited have ever received any formal training on mango farming and consequently there is room for improvement. To help, Sierra Agra will invest in tools for pruning and clearing land, empowering these farmers to enhance their work and in turn, their lives.
Juice Worth the Squeeze will initially focus on indigenous organic mango and organic coconut. Both are high volume commercial opportunities. The program seeks to double the size of the farmer network to over 7,000 farmers. Eventually, other fruits such as pineapple, passion fruit, orange, papaya, ginger and turmeric will be introduced to the supply chain.