“To be a Successful Cocoa Farmer (…) You Need (…) Modern Technology”

  • Cocoa Diaries Stephen Cobbinah

    Cocoa Farmer
    Bibiani-Anwiaso Bekwai district, Ghana
  • Cocoa Diaries Philip Oppong

    Cocoa Farmer
    Bibiani-Anwiaso Bekwai district, Ghana

They both farm cocoa in the same region of Ghana, and both say the changing climate has made their work harder.

Stephen Cobbinah, a former deputy commissioner of the Ghana National Fire Service, is a 67-year-old father of five grown children whose 40-acre farm provides income to supplement his pension. “The climate has changed for the worse,” he said, describing periods of intense sun and then rainfall that destroyed seedlings he planted in 2018. “It wasn’t like that years ago.”

Philip Oppong, 36, needs the income from selling cocoa grown on his 8.5-acre plot to pay for the education of his three children, aged 12, 7 and 3 years old. He told how decreased rainfall cost him all the seedlings he planted in the 2016-17 crop season, adding: “If you had planted cocoa seed 15 years ago without even caring for them, they would still survive because of good weather then.”

Today, modern farming methods and assistance from cocoa companies help farmers throughout cocoa-belt of Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire cope with the increased heat, reduced rains and other impacts of climate change.

Cobbinah, who won a best farmer award in the Bibiani-Anwiaso Bekwai district in 2018, described training he received in handling cocoa seedlings, spacing cocoa trees for optimum growth and production, planting shade trees to protect the cocoa from the heat, and composting as a form of fertilizer for the soil. He also received thousands of seedlings and assistance to eliminate the ever-present weeds as part of a comprehensive program to help farmers increase cocoa yields and make more money.

Both Cobbinah and Oppong grow other crops to feed their families and make some extra money beyond the cocoa income. Some plants, such as plantain, oranges and cassava, do well on the same land as the cocoa, while maize and mangoes must grow in a different area. Oppong received training on pruning the cocoa trees to help them grow better, and also in lining and pegging when planting them to ensure they have enough soil, which helped him more than double his production. He also belongs to a help group that shares information on farming, such as how to adapt to climate change and prevent some impacts from it. In addition, he said, the government offers fertilizer and other support, but farmers need more because of climate change and other challenges.

“It used to rain a lot several years ago,” but not anymore, Oppong noted. Farming is a way of life for both Oppong and Cobbinah, representing where they came from and now a future path, with modern methods and help to deal with challenges such as climate change.

“You are born into farming, so we have to be in it,” Oppong said. “To be a successful cocoa farmer, I will advise the person to use modern methods of farming. You need to be abreast with modern technology.” That has allowed him to educate his children in private schools and build a family home, “funded with money coming directly from cocoa,” he said.

Cabbinah called for helping the youth of today prepare better for cocoa farming to break a stereotype that only the older generations still work the fields. He’d be fine with his own children going into cocoa farming, but only alongside a professional career. “Imagine if I had started farming while I was still in the Ghana National Fire Service,” he wondered aloud. “I would have had more cocoa than everyone else by now.”

  • Stephen Cobbinah's cocoa farm

  • Philip Oppong diversifies his income with maize

  • Cocoa seedlings near Stephen Cobbinah's farm

  • Shade trees on Philip Oppong's cocoa farm

  • Philip Oppong's cocoa farm with plantain, yam and cocoa trees in the background

  • Cocoa seedlings near Stephen Cobbinah's farm

  • Philip Oppong checks his cocoa trees on his farm in Ghana's Bibiani-Anwiaso Bekwai district