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Hamidu Isaka, 35, has always had a passion for supporting farmer livelihoods in Ghana. “I first volunteered with an agribusiness growth initiative to support cocoa farmer livelihoods when I was in college.” Fast forward past his agricultural studies, MBA, and the wealth of knowledge he gained from working in various roles with NGOs and the private sector in the cocoa industry, to the present. For the past few years, Hamidu has worked as a Community Development Manager for a chocolate and cocoa company that is a member of the Cocoa & Forests Initiative (CFI).
Based in Kumasi, at the heart of Ghana’s cocoa region, Hamidu helps cocoa farmers acquire key skills and knowledge to improve their lives and communities by employing responsible labor practices, professionalizing their farms, increasing productivity, and increasing resilience against climate change.
Hamidu believes the mapping of farms is one of CFI’s most important activities. Mapping is critical to ending deforestation, as it indicates if a farm is located in a protected forest area or near a protected area. Farm mapping allows the company he works for to continue its steady progression towards a more transparent supply chain. Mapping also brings many benefits to the farmer.
“We often find that a farmer has no idea of the size of his farm, which may not seem like such a huge problem. But, for example, if a farmer thinks his plot is 10 hectares, when it is in fact only two hectares, consider the substantial cost savings he could make by buying fertilizer for only two hectares. In addition, it also prevents the farmer from applying too much fertilizer, which has a detrimental impact on yield. Mapping gives farmers a better understanding of their own operations.”
Mapping extends beyond measuring the size and geographical location of a cocoa farm. Household data is also collected, which allows for the development of tailored, individualized farmer plans. The plans offer services to farmers ranging from individual coaching, agricultural inputs, and tools to planting materials and crop and livestock diversification. Providing farmers with the appropriate offering, based on their individual situation and farm profile, supports their journey out of poverty.
“When farmers see the end results of applying good agricultural practices, it enables them to look beyond this season’s crop, and to a more sustainable farming future. They see that increasing cocoa yield with the same amount of land is possible.”
Hamidu believes a key step in the success of engaging with farmers and farming communities is establishing trust.
“Achieving trust with farmers and communities involves frequent visits, being visible in the community, undertaking regular farmer training and being available to provide guidance and support when needed. Showing farmers real, tangible results also achieves buy-in. An example here is the work we do with underplanting, whereby we prune back the older cocoa trees, clear weeds, and plant young seedlings underneath. Farmers see that the older trees suddenly start producing more – and they ask me why this is happening. I explain that by pruning, clearing waste and underplanting, the older trees can become healthier, whilst the young ones are growing. This is the same situation when shade trees are planted. Shade-grown cocoa improves soil quality and can increase biodiversity on the cocoa farm.”
We’re working hard to show farmers that rehabilitating their existing farmlands and diversifying their income with other crops, for example, will not hurt their current income and, in fact, is very likely to increase it.