“I Love Cocoa”: From Urban Migrant to Dynamic Agroforester
Ediko Appo Agnes stood among her cocoa trees, a machete in one hand with heart-shaped earrings framing her face, and… Read More
Elizabeth Obeng is a busy woman — teacher, shopkeeper, cocoa farmer, and a single mother. She grows cocoa on two plots of land totaling five acres in Assin Afeaso in central Ghana.
“My parents did farming and didn’t benefit from it, so I thought that is how it is,” said the 55-year-old Obeng, standing among her cocoa trees in green gumboots with a machete in hand. “But now I know more about it. I would have owned more farms if I knew the things I know now.” Her success shows how circumstances have changed for farmers in the cocoa belt of Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire. Efforts by the cocoa sector and some cooperatives throughout the region have helped modernize operations and generate more income for a traditionally impoverished sector.
In Obeng’s case, her will to succeed and the training she received combined to help her overcome the additional obstacle of competing as a lone woman with five children. Describing her strenuous daily life, she rattles off details and figures to explain the economics of cocoa farming. “The hardest part is weeding the land and maintaining it, which costs 60 cedis (just over $10 US) per pole,” Obeng said. “The laborer also takes 20 cedis ($3.60 US) per day. The other difficulties are spraying the crops — because I am a woman, I am not able to lift the machine — and having money to buy farm equipment and supplies.”
She started farming in 2008, initially on her own, while also earning some money teaching at the local primary school. Then a cooperative formed in the area to offer training and other support. “Ever since I joined them, I have received so much training: lining and pegging, training on private-public enterprises, education on child labor, and training on the right weedicide application,” Obeng said. Other support included farm equipment and supplies, on credit in the off-season, including the boots she wears when working the land.
Today she spreads poultry manure to fertilize the trees but wants to start trying manufactured fertilizers. All the training and assistance, notably from cocoa and chocolate companies, has increased her production from two bags of cocoa beans a year to eight bags now. In addition, Obeng grows plantain, cassava, coco yam, and other crops, mostly to eat but also to provide protection for the cocoa trees around them.
“The only thing I do that brings other income apart from the teaching is my small provision shop,” she said, “but I mostly run out of stock during the off-cocoa season.” Obeng has accounts with cellular money transfer services, for her cocoa transactions, another example of how the life of local farmers has modernized.
All the hard work is worth it, she declared. “I can say my son will even go to the university next year,” Obeng said. “I use the income to take care of my children, including their education. I also use it to maintain the farm.” So far, though, her success doesn’t mean her children want to farm cocoa. “I wanted my son who read Agricultural Science at senior high school to join me at the farm,” she said, “but he doesn’t want to.”