Ediko Appo Agnes stood among her cocoa trees, a machete in one hand with heart-shaped earrings framing her face, and… Read More
Just after the birth of her second child more than four years ago, Janet Kwaa began farming cocoa on 4.5 acres of land in southern Ghana. With two young mouths to feed, the 27-year-old has a set regimen for her day. “Before I go to farm, I make sure the children leave for school first,” she said. “This daily routine makes farming very difficult for me. The weeding and pruning are very hard. I go to farm at around 8 a.m. and come home at 12 noon.”
It’s a challenging life, even with a husband who also farms cocoa and is the purchasing clerk for their community. “The cocoa farming business is extremely difficult,” Kwaa said. “One spends a lot of time on preparing the land before you plant your crops. Sometimes, the crops you plant do not survive, and you have to re-plant them to have a good harvest. Cocoa farming is such that you always have to go to the farm or else crops will die, rendering your work in vain.”
That can make it hard to provide for her children. “Sometimes, I find it very difficult to take care of their daily expenses, especially on their feeding,” she said. Her story is typical in the cocoa belt of Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire that produces much of the core ingredient for the world’s chocolate industry.
Farmers traditionally mired in poverty and unable to educate their children now receive support from the government, the cocoa industry and local cooperatives to learn modern practices and life skills, get soft loans for equipment and fertilizer, and in some areas build new schools. “They train us on best farming practices, such as maintaining the farm through effective ways of pruning to allow for sufficient sunlight for the cocoa trees,” she said. “They train us on the appropriate application of the right weedicides and fertilizers.”
Other help includes forming a women’s cooperative group, with members contributing money that is used to provide credit for buying equipment and other needs. “The group’s name is ‘Adom Wo Wim, Yeretwen Awurade,’ which means ‘Grace in the Heavens,’ ” Kwaa said. “All the members contribute for three months or more, and members are allowed to take a loan of more than three months of her savings with little interest. All the members share the interest on each loan given at the end of the financial year. There is even a constitution that backs the work of the farmers’ cooperative.”
She also grows plantains, cassava and coco yam for her family to eat, as well as to sell to make additional money. “The plantain and coco yam are grown on the same farm with the cocoa trees. The plantain, for example, serves as a shade too,” she said of another practice gained from the training. “The cassava is grown on a different piece of land.” The cooperative also provided the women’s group with help to start snail farming. Now, Kwaa wants the government to help farmers rehabilitate farms by replacing the old cocoa trees with new ones.
One thing she doesn’t want is for her children to become cocoa farmers, like her. “No!” she exclaimed when asked that question. “Schooling is more important than cocoa farming. I am into cocoa farming to support them to be able to go higher in the education ladder.” Her dark eyes narrowed as she spoke. “For them to be permanent cocoa farmers, I will not agree to that,” Kwaa said. “I will advise them to seek well-paid jobs.”