PDI, Partners Launch “Peace Chocolate” -To Promote Women Empowerment, Reconciliation

MONROVIA: As stakeholders in the peace building sector, especially towards seeking peace dividend ecosystem to effectively harness market forces for peace, the local office of the Peace Dividend Initiative (PDI), a private international diplomacy group has launched its major peace flagship project, the Peace Chocolate or the Wologizi Chocolate Project which is geared towards supporting the reconciliation process in Liberia by creating economic empowerment opportunities for rural female entrepreneurs.

The Wologizi Chocolate project is born out of joint efforts between PDI, the Komassa Vornambah Women’s Group in Bolahun, Lofa County, as project beneficiaries and the Liberia Cocoa Corporation (LCC) as technical partners.

At a well-attended program held at the Bella Cassa Hotel in Monrovia yesterday, April 24, 2024 in the presence of some international development partners, civil society groups, among others, participants expressed excitement that the initiative will go a long way in boosting the agriculture sector especially at the time emphasis in the sector is being shifted to value addition.

Giving an overview of PDI during the program, Paul Dziatkowiec, Senior Advisor, Peace Operations at the Headquarters in Geneva thanked the international partners which included the UN Peacebuilding Fund, UNDP, FAO, the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue (HD), as well as the local partners Platform for Dialogue and Peace, Liberia Initiative for Empowerment, Naymote, and the technical partner Liberia Cocoa Corporation for making the initiative possible.

He said PDI is an innovative actor in the peacemaking landscape having been founded in 2021 and over time has being incubated in the HD Center and from its headquarters in Geneva, it has been able to access other peacemaking organizations, international organizations and governments around the world.

Dziatkowiec with background work experience in diplomacy having worked in Africa, Eurasia, Asia and the Middle East to help find negotiated solutions to violent conflicts said what he was able “to learn was the emphasis being placed on politics, security, on the distribution of power but they often neglect economic aspects, which frankly can be the most important issues for societies adding that in many conflicts, such as Liberia’s civil wars, economic grievances can be an important trigger for war.

‘So PDI has identified this gap, and its rationale is exactly this – to bring the economy and the business aspect into the equation.

“We want to help business play a serious role in achieving the peace, and in locking in the peace. Making it sustainable”, he said.

He said to achieve its objectives, PDI works through three streams which he named as dialogue, incubation and investment and expanded on the concepts to provide more clarity on how the modules are used.

“We accompany peace processes, or peacebuilding processes, by partnering with mediators and bringing in the economic element, the voice of the business actors. This is an important player in peace, because business employs hundreds or thousands of people (and thus has great influence in conflict-affected communities), often has good access to and leverage over those who make political decisions, and it has important insights about the situation on the ground.

“We help business ideas to get off the ground, and help those affected by conflict to turn their vision into a high-value end product. Strengthen the value chain. This also includes a strong element of empowerment, in the form of up skilling / training for entrepreneurs. In turn, it helps to build resilience.

“We are building up a peace venture fund, whose goal will be to attract to these peace-promoting business projects such investors who are interested not only in profit-making, but also in contributing to building sustainable peace.

“The overarching principle driving all our work is peace-promotion – we are not just a business incubator, we are first and foremost trying to play a role in securing sustainable peace”, he said.

He said further that in selecting business projects, PDI assesses their potential to contribute to a real peace – which means working with vulnerable communities, empowering those who are marginalized, promoting coexistence, resilience, and alternative, peaceful livelihoods.

He spoke also of the two other aspects of PDI’s work including Climate sensitivity, stating that as is increasingly well-documented, conflict and environmental destruction go hand in hand. “They are inextricably connected: climate change and environmental degradation can lead to violent conflict, and vice versa: conflict destroys the environment. We aim for our projects to take into account the environmental impact”, he said.

On the other aspect which has to do with gender equality, he said “we try to empower women through our business projects, as women have such a critical role to play in preventing and resolving conflict, in peacebuilding, and in post-conflict recovery in their communities”

He said though young, PDI already has projects in a number of countries including Liberia, Colombia, Ukraine, Central African Republic, and the newly emerging projects in Moldova, Afghanistan, PNG and elsewhere.

Speaking on the activities of PDI in Liberia with emphasis on the Wologizi Chocolate project, the Country Project Officer of the institute in Liberia, Madam Dorothy K. Tooman thanked all the institutions that partnered with her entity to ensure that the project came up successful after some challenges. She said the project involved 50 female producers of Komasa Vormabeh Group in Lofa County.

The event was held to showcase PDI-incubated businesses in rural Liberia through the Rural Women’s Entrepreneurship Hub. The project aims to support the reconciliation process by creating economic empowerment opportunities for rural female entrepreneurs, particularly in areas of increasing socio-economic marginalisation such as Grand Gedeh, Lofa, Montserrado, Nimba, Sinoe and Rivercess.

She said PDI provided opportunities for technical training to help the rural women to upscale cocoa businesses to high quality chocolate bars production while it anchored a partnership with the Liberia Cocoa Corporation as a technical partner for the project.

“The Wologizi Chocolate has done a lot not just for the people in Lofa but the whole country. It is a brand and as you know Wologizi is a known name in Liberia, when people hear about it, they get to hear about the country. So we now have our own brand of chocolate that we can be proud of as well”, an elated Madam Toomann said.

She also gave a breakdown of the beneficiaries put at 58 participants, 37 of women came from the Komassa Vornambeh Group while the other 20 came from both Zorzor and Voinjama districts , constituting 86% females.

Madam Toomann said the beneficiaries where trained in organic cocoa farming, Under brushing, pruning and shade management, disease, pest and insects control, post-harvest and processing, sorting and storage.

Presenting the Peace Chocolate to the audience, the technical consultant to the project, Lu Tolbert said he was happy to be part of the process that brought out the result of the “hard work of these amazing women” and praised their resilience to endure throughout to the end.

He said the chocolate is made of 70% premium cocoa content just as there are also cocoa butter products.  He also said the cocoa beans are transported to Monrovia to his local facility by the women for processing.

Besides the Wologizi Project, Madam Toomann said there is a climate smart cassava process project being undertaken by the Nimba Women and Girls Promoters and another coconut process project in Rivercess County for the production of coconut oil “up to the standard for consumption and even export”.

She said in as much as they were eager to ensure that the projects are successful, “unfortunately, we don’t really have the sufficient support and that is why we want to call on the government to assist with funding for these projects because you can see that there are results you can point to”

Launching the chocolate, Madam Gulavic Margaret Ngonza, the Head of Office of the UN Resident Coordinator praised the women for their efforts as well as partners that ensured that the project became a grand success. In a very succinct statement she said, “It is good you now have the Liberian chocolate, you don’t need to go to Ghana or elsewhere, you can have the chocolate right here”.

In special remarks, two beneficiaries of the project, Madam Komassa Kanneh from the Komassa Vormabeh Group who spoke through an interpreter and another, Madam Sonnie Kortee from Voinjama thanked PDI and her partners for the support and also urged the government to intervene for the women to overcome some of the challenges affecting their production.

Several others also spoke at the program including Emmanuel Nyuma Bawoh, Country Project Manager at the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue who said the project underscores the need for stakeholders to also address some of the salient issues surrounding peace in the country. He said it is unfortunate that more emphases are being placed on the war crimes court and not the other very important aspect of the report of the TRC which talked about dialogue, reparation and reconciliation.

Mr. John Dennis of the UNDP Peacebuilding project on his part said he was excited that the project became successful despite limited funds to the partners that executed the initiative. He said it is hope that as funding has been increased at his institution, some of them could trigger down to PDI and urged the entity to avail itself when the opportunity comes on board.

He praised the rural women for their commitment and sacrifices over the years to ensure that the project became a success.

Madam Karishma Pelham-Raad, Assistant Minister of Foreign Affairs for International Organizations who represented the Government of Liberia expressed delight for the project and encouraged the rural women not to relent what they have started but did not make any commitment on behalf of the government as to what will be done to assist them. She however, pledged to explore opportunities through her personal foundation if need be to intervene in some of the areas that will improve their project.

Mr. Dhoogba Mabande who represented the UN Women Country Representative conveyed her goodwill message, extolled the women for finding a path to contribute to their economic statuses while promoting peace among themselves and within the society.

The program was moderated by Madam Eva Flomo of the ECOWAS Radio.

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