Sena Korku Wosornu has been cocoa farming in Assin Dunkwa, in Ghana’s Abura-Asebu-Kwamankese district, for most of his 66 years, and his story is typical of many in Ghana and Côte D’Ivoire who produce the core ingredient in your chocolate. He described the hard work to weed his 15 acres of land on three plots and prune his trees, and how the training he received in modern cocoa farming practices from the cocoa and chocolate industry and other support helped him educate his seven grown children.
Wosornu’s story reveals another side of the reality in cocoa farming — the need for diverse income streams. In his case, that has meant growing palm trees. “Yes, palm plantation, cassava, plantain, and coconut, which serves as shade trees,” he said when asked about other crops grown on his land in central Ghana. “I use the palm fruits for palm oil, which is sold, and I get about 2,500 cedis ($434 US).”
Efforts to modernize the cocoa industry have helped increase production to raise income levels for farmers, reduce the once-prevalent reliance on child labor, promote additional ways to make money such as planting other crops, and raise awareness of coping with climate change.
Wosornu’s palm trees reflect a problem rooted in the need for traditionally impoverished farmers in poor countries to diversify their income to provide financial stability for their families and educate their children. “Cocoa farming is a very lucrative business that you will enjoy if you show the proper interest,” he said. “It is difficult work, but with determination and perseverance you will be better off.”
He started farming cocoa in 1974 and has learned through the decades that success requires “a collaboration between people.” In earlier years, he received direction from extension officers, he said, but when they stopped showing up, he joined a local cooperative and ever since, “there have been improvements.”
The training has included regular visits from experts who showed him how to prune the trees to allow sunlight through the branches and prevent them from growing too tall, and the need to weed immediately instead of only twice a year. “I further cut the pruned branches into pieces to use as a form of fertilizer to provide nutrients to the soil,” Wosornu said. “I left some trees to provide shade trees when I started farming, while I transplanted some others.”
In addition, “they always educate me on child labor, so I don’t use my grandchildren in the farm,” he said. Wosornu gets farm equipment and supplies as needed, paying back the cost later. The result is more production, and income. “I used to get about 10 bags a year, but after I started dealing with them, my produce increased from 15 bags the first year to 30 bags in the third year,” he said.
That has allowed Wosornu to educate all his children, with two of them completing university, a third completing nursing training and another still studying in Kumasi. Cocoa money also allowed him to build a house and pay his medical bills when he became seriously ill a few years back.
Today, his lined face and trim body show the rigors of cocoa farming. One eye is blinded by disease, but Wosornu has persevered in expanding the plantations he farms with his wife. At a meeting of local farmers in August to discuss issues with the cocoa companies and cooperatives, Wosornu spoke first. He described how growing cocoa has helped the community, then detailed challenges still faced — the need for a road to transport goods in the rainy season, the need for a school so children don’t have to walk seven kilometers each way, and the need for assistance in the off-season.
He and others noted a disease affecting the cocoa leaves and asked for help. The new disease could be due to climate change, Wosornu had said before the meeting, complaining how the shifting weather has stalled farming. “Too much sun has affected the crops, too,” he continued. “The cocoa will not yield fruits early this year. The rains are delayed, and it is affecting the planting season.”
Despite that, Wosornu said, there will always be some cocoa to sell.