My trip into these communities started in the bustling city of Accra, and from there I traveled several hours through the Ghanaian countryside, making my way through the Greater Accra, Eastern, and Ashanti regions, before visiting communities in West Akyem (~75km northwest of Accra), Bekwai (~35km south of Kumasi), and Suhum (~65km north of Accra). Walking into a Ghanaian village for the first time was a sensory overload, packed with images of orange-brown roads, lush greenery, and white-grey skies that threatened rain. For the first time in my life, I watched people go about their days drying rice or cocoa, fetching water from a well, head-carrying various items, sitting and talking to friends and family, and undertaking myriad other activities. It was almost as though I had walked into one of the many photographs I’d seen while sitting behind my desk at WCF’s offices in Washington.
A few days later, I was in Côte d’Ivoire, the world’s leading producer of cocoa. From the country’s commercial capital, Abidjan, I departed westward toward the cocoa-growing communities of Gagore, Gazolilie, and Petit Toumodi in the Lakota (~225km from Abidjan) and Gagnoa (~52km northwest of Lakota) regions. The Ivorian countryside looked somewhat similar to that of Ghana’s, and I was struck by how the the flag of Côte d’Ivoire, with its swaths of orange, white, and green, mirror the colors of the countryside.
In each village, my team and I arrived in a minivan. I was traveling with the Ghana-based film crew (Cornelius and Kelly), field guides (Ignatius and Francis in Ghana, Jean Jacques in Côte d’Ivoire), driver (Ernest), and WCF staff (me in Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire and WCF Vice President for Member & External Relations, Tim McCoy in Côte d’Ivoire). Our arrival always drew the attention of many people in the communities, and especially the kids. More than a few would linger with us throughout our filming process as observers.
Each visit would begin by paying our respect to the local village chief and other prominent community members. We would later greet the interviewees and explain, often through interpreters, the objectives of our visit. Locally-based WCF member company teams were tremendously helpful in this process. Cornelius and Kelly filmed community settings and the farmers at work before conducting one-on-one interviews with a few farmers. The film crew went to great lengths to capture scenes of farmers demonstrating what a normal day in the community is like, from getting their kids ready for school to sharpening machetes, and from preparing for the work day to pruning cocoa trees.
The interviewees were patient with our team as they were asked to repeat and re-describe anecdotes and answers to questions in an effort to capture their most genuine voices. We heard from farmers young and old, male and female, to gain insights on a variety of farming backgrounds and experiences. Each person in each community had something new and different to share. We learned about day to day work on the farm, their families, difficulties and challenges, successes, support from cocoa companies, alternative livelihoods, good agricultural practices, issues with pests and diseases, child labor remediation systems, the effects of a changing climate, and more.