Ediko Appo Agnes stood among her cocoa trees, a machete in one hand with heart-shaped earrings framing her face, and… Read More
Farming cocoa is Kenneth Osei’s livelihood, and his passion.
Each day he works his five-acre plantation in southern Ghana, knowing the time spent weeding the land and pruning his trees means money to feed his family and pay for his children’s education. But it is more than that for the 40-year-old Osei, who has been farming for 15 years.
“If I wake up every morning and I am strong, I will always go,” said Osei, a trim man with thick brows and a close-cropped beard and mustache. “I have to go before I will get what I will eat. Sometimes, if you get to the farm and you see that the cocoa trees are thriving and weeds want to take over, you get so excited and weed to the extent you would not even want to go home.”
For now, life is good, thanks in part to support he gets from the government, the cocoa industry and one of the cooperatives prevalent in the cocoa belt of Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire that grows much of the core ingredient for the world’s chocolate industry. The cooperative provides equipment and fertilizer to farmers, delaying payment until harvest, training on modern farming practices and additional income sources. Such support helps traditionally impoverished cocoa farmers increase their income so they can build homes for their families and educate their children.
Osei produced about 10 bags of cocoa from his trees before the training, and now gets 30 bags. “Let me be very honest with you, cocoa farming has really helped me,” he said. “I am always able to achieve whatever I plan to do at the end of the cocoa season.” That has meant building a three-bedroom house in the nearest town so his family can stay there as needed, as well as paying school fees for his three children, aged 14, 10 and 7.
The training he received covered maintaining the cocoa trees, as well as addressing social challenges such as ending the once-widely accepted practice of child labor.
“They trained us that even if you are not able to spray your trees but you prune very well, diseases that affect the cocoa trees can be controlled,” Osei said. “They have made us understand we should not use the children in cocoa farming. I one time even asked them that since they say we shouldn’t use the children at the farm, how will they show interest in the business? They said that the children learn about agriculture in school, so they will learn about it and develop interest from there.”
He also learned to spread empty cocoa husks on the farm because “they say it’s a source of nutrients for the cocoa trees and seeds,” and he planted six shade trees provided by the cooperative for protecting the cocoa.
Other support from the cooperative surprised him.
“They promised us some time ago to give us animals for rearing, but I thought they were joking,” he said with a smile. “Then one day I received a call that we should go and look for wood. I was told the animals for the rearing were ready. Truly, we went for some of the wood, they paid for it and brought a carpenter to prepare their pen. They later brought the animals to us free of charge. Now we have grasscutters (goats), snails, and rabbits.”
Some of the animals are for his family to eat, along with the cassava, plantains and other vegetables that Osei grows on different land from the cocoa trees. Other animals get sold and supplement the income from the cocoa beans. “My wife is also a cocoa farmer,” Osei said, noting that “aside from the farming, she sells food (rice, banku, and kenkey) and fried fish. This brings home income.”
The cooperative also fronts money for school fees in the offseason that Osei repays later, and he has taken out loans from a local bank at times. In addition, the local government once helped when the community needed a new pipe installed to help the farming.
It’s a good life for him and his family, Osei said, but he’d like to see something more. “If possible,” he said, smiling once again, “we have to set up a chocolate factory around the cocoa farming communities.”