Pass the Garri: Lessons Learned on Diversification and Cocoa Livelihoods

Author Aaron Mead-Long

Senior Programs Associate
World Cocoa Foundation

Tahiru Mohammed is a business-minded farmer in the Mantukwa community in Ghana’s Ashanti region. In 2014, he received training through the Cocoa Livelihoods Program (CLP) on plantain propagation. He went on to not only grow enough plantain to feed his own family and sell a portion at market. He also created a small business selling plantain plants to neighboring farmers. “Now my family has more than enough to eat, and I also make additional income for my children’s school fees, family upkeep and for my small monthly savings,” Tahiru recounts.

Tahiru’s story is just one of thousands from West African cocoa farmers who participated in the Cocoa Livelihoods Program. During the last 10 years, CLP convened 15 companies and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in increasing cocoa productivity and farmer resiliency thanks to food crops.

The amount of money a family in West Africa can earn from cocoa alone has historically been below what’s generally accepted as a living income. This is a result of small farm sizes, low cocoa productivity and an over-reliance on cocoa as an income stream. This is why CLP promoted diversified livelihoods while at the same time training farmers on good agricultural practices for cocoa. An effort within CLP to empower women to participate more fully in the cocoa value chain and income diversifying activities was supported by the Walmart Foundation.

CLP was an expansive program that reached nearly 200,000 farmers in communities across Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Nigeria, and Cameroon. I was lucky enough to visit one of these communities, in the Suhum District of the Eastern Region of Ghana, in 2018.

The small village sat nestled among cocoa farms a short drive from the district center. Having arrived, I was led into a squat, dusty building near the center of the village. Farmers ambled in from the surrounding cocoa farms, mostly women in colorful garb but also a solid contingent of men. Once seated, an extension trainer led the group in a rousing call and response that powerfully illustrated the intertwining of cocoa and Ghanaian identity: “Cocoa…GHANA…Cocoa…GHANA…” This group consisted of members of a CLP-supported village savings and loan association. They had come together to deposit their monthly savings from income generating activities, like pounding and selling cassava flour called garri.

Small savings associations like the one I visited in Suhum were just one of the ways that CLP partner companies helped farmers. Companies also trained farmers on growing food crops and gave them high quality plants to improve their chances of success. This was no small feat considering many of the partner companies had little to no experience with food crops. Despite this, they took the challenge head on, learning a lot along the way.

One of the biggest lessons from CLP was that future initiatives should use a market-driven approach to food crop production and income diversification. CLP chose plantain and cassava as target food crops for evaluation throughout the program (while not prohibiting partners from promoting other food crops). As any foodie traveler to West Africa like me will tell you, cassava and plantain are a huge part of the local diet. Their leafy plants also do a nice job shading young cocoa trees from the blazing, equatorial sun. And it was successful – all implementing partner companies achieved their targets for providing improved cassava and plantain planting material to their farmers, and most fully or partially achieved their targets for food crop good agricultural practice adoption. Still, by focusing on just the two crops the program may have unintentionally left some diversification avenues unexplored.

Like Tahiru above, it’s essential that farmers be given the opportunity to maximize the value of whatever income generating activities they engage in. In the case of food crops, designers of future initiatives should put in the extra effort up front to ensure farmers will be able to sell at a good price whatever goes beyond household needs.

Read more lessons learned from CLP (Executive Summary or Full report).