“Paying School Fees is Difficult Because Cocoa Farming is Seasonal”

Cocoa Diaries Haruna Arko

Cocoa Farmer
Apraku, Ghana

In the good times, cocoa farming brings Haruna Arko what he needs to provide for his family the way he wants. He can pay the school fees for his seven children and open a provision store for his wife to bring in some extra income. He even bought another plot of land to develop.

Unfortunately, the weather, yields, and prices can vary in cocoa farming.

“Paying the school fees is difficult because cocoa farming is seasonal,” said Arko, 47, who farms 15 acres in Apraku in the Eastern Region of Ghana. “It’s good for us during the season, but I grapple with financing their education during off-seasons.” Now planning for the seasonal shifts is even harder due to climate change. “We used to get a lot of rainfall years ago, but these days we do not have rains even during the raining season,” he said. “We didn’t get enough rainfall this year, which will affect the farm productivity. Even all the flowers on the cocoa trees are not surviving.”

Raising income levels for farmers in the cocoa belt of Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire is essential to ending longstanding poverty for those who produce the core ingredient in your chocolate. Cocoa companies in the region offer training and other assistance to help farmers increase production, diversity their income with other sources, and learn how to cope with the changing climate.

Haruna Arko raises rabbits on his cocoa farm to diversify his income

“They have trained me on how to plant the seedlings, how to weed, and how to prune,” said Arko, a thin man with muscular arms from wielding a machete every day to maintain his cocoa trees. “We are taught not to allow too many shades to cover the cocoa trees because of pests and diseases. I have also been trained on animal farming like rabbits and goats.”

A rabbit hutch on his farm showed Arko’s use of the training to make more money. Another income stream comes from growing other crops besides cocoa, but in different areas to prevent harming his cocoa trees or overtaxing the soil. “I grow cassava, plantain and cocoa yam to feed my family, and some to sell,” he said, again noting the seasonal variance faced by farmers. “The amount I get from them varies, depending on the harvest.”

Arko described how “every aspect of cocoa is difficult to do, from weeding to planting, maintaining, and spraying,” as he has learned since he started in 2003. Techniques he has learned to boost production include spreading dry cocoa leaves on the soil to keep it moist, using mahogany trees to shade the cocoa trees, and applying liquid fertilizers and poultry manure.

“Because of the training I have received, I now get about 30 bags compared to 10-15 bags before,” he said.

Despite the challenges, Arko believes he is doing the best he can. “If I compare the income I was getting from my previous work as a welder, then cocoa farming is far better,” he said. Still, things could be better. “What needs to change,” Arko said, “is that you get enough rain and all significant farming inputs (such as assistance and training) to help you.”