Sierra Coffee Mills Aims to Perk Up Country’s Recovering Economy
This November will mark one year since Sierra Leone was officially declared Ebola-free. For over a year, the disease spread throughout the country, infecting over 14,000 people and killing nearly 4,000. The outbreak left a devastating impact on the country’s population, infrastructure and economy. With the effects of the outbreak felt in many areas throughout the country, recovery over the past year has been multi-faceted with economic growth high on the list of priorities.
Before the outbreak, the county was experiencing double-digit annual GDP Growth, which plummeted from 20.9 percent in 2013 to 4.6 percent due to Ebola. During the outbreak, businesses shut down operations, mandatory quarantines left farm fields and crops unattended, out of country investors conducting trade in the region fled, and production came to a complete halt, leaving an already fragile workforce relying on external food and resources. That has made the last year of economic recovery vital for the country.
One way the country is bouncing back is through programs designed to help businesses thrive. FIRST STEP, a subsidiary of World Hope International, a US-based Christian relief and development organization, created a Special Economic Zone (SEZ) in Sierra Leone in 2011. In partnership with the government of Sierra Leone, the SEZ develops land to lease to companies seeking to process the country’s natural resources for sale in Sierra Leone or export. In addition to building scalable factory facilities, and offering access to guaranteed electric power, water, and other utilities, FIRST STEP’s agreement also provides tenants with special duty and tax incentives to help companies do business in Sierra Leone.
Prior to the Ebola outbreak, the SEZ model proved its success by helping to bring mangos and pineapples to the international market with its first tenant, Africa Felix Juice (AFJ). During the three-month mango season each year, AFJ purchases and processes up to two million pounds of mangos from smallholder farmers in Sierra Leone who were organized and trained by World Hope International. AFJ then sells to global clients that include buyers from the U.K., the Netherlands, Germany, and the U.S. Before the outbreak, AFJ and WHI created more than 5,000 jobs through the mango program and over 100 jobs through a similar pineapples and papaya program, which remain successful with farmers who benefit from a steady and higher income, education, training and more.
Now, post-Ebola, World Hope International and FIRST STEP hope to duplicate their past success with the SEZ’s newest tenant, Sierra Coffee Mills (SCM) who aims to put Sierra Leone on the gourmet coffee and cocoa world map.
Sierra Coffee Mills is the country’s first integrated coffee and cocoa processing facility that is helping to restore Sierra Leone’s economy in the wake of last year’s outbreak. Sierra Coffee Mills is teaching small holder farmers in Sierra Leone – many of whom live on less than $2 a day – a new way to process their coffee and cocoa that adds value in-country. In addition, 4,000 farmers are currently being trained to receive UTZ sustainable farming and organic certification, which will help them fetch higher prices for their coffee and cocoa crops and earn a higher income. SCM first coffee harvest is slated for this November and they’ve just begun processing the company’s first batch of cocoa beans into a semi-finished chocolate for export to artisan chocolatiers to finish in Europe and USA.
One year ago, Ebola devastated all of West Africa and while there are glimmers of hope in programs like the SEZ, Sierra Leone is still far from where it was prior to the outbreak and has a long road ahead in its path to recovery.