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Euroviews. I am a cocoa farmer. When I say we need training and investment to thrive, take my word for it

A farmer holds cocoa beans in his hand in the village of Bocanda north of Abidjan, October 2022
A farmer holds cocoa beans in his hand in the village of Bocanda north of Abidjan, October 2022 Copyright AP Photo/Euronews
Copyright AP Photo/Euronews
By Emmanuel Nana Sarpong
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The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent in any way the editorial position of Euronews.

To improve the lives of farmers and their communities and help them earn a living income, we need to stop focusing only on price and place our attention on investment, Emmanuel Nana Sarpong writes.

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The land in my home in Ghana is rich. It has diamonds and gold. It has oil and natural gas. It can grow coffee and a lot, a whole lot, of cocoa beans here in the Ahafo region. 

But today, it’s not so easy to be a cocoa farmer, especially with dying crops and a shrinking harvest that has made farming more difficult and turned cocoa into an increasingly expensive commodity.

I know cocoa farming like the back of my hand. I am a 69-year-old cocoa farmer from a cocoa farming family (my 105-year-old father was also a cocoa farmer). 

I am also an educator and a certified teacher of agroscience, and what I am sure about now after all these years in the industry is that long-term investments and training are what is needed to make cocoa production sustainable.

Climate change is affecting everything from pollination to irrigation

Like me, a majority of the farmers here applaud the fixed farmgate price increase made earlier this month, but when compared to the world market prices, we know we are not getting our share and that long-term sustainability requires a different approach.

Farmers need recommendations and intensified training on pruning. Pruning is often minimal and shouldn’t be, especially because it helps with disease control, a big issue right now, and prevents moisture from building up by allowing more sunlight to filter in. 

It also stimulates the growth of new shoots and encourages more flowering, which usually means more cocoa pods.

We need the government and stakeholders to invest in artificial pollination. Most cocoa trees are self-incompatible; they cannot pollinate themselves. This means pollinators — biting midges — need to pick up pollen from the male parts of a flower on one tree and deposit it on the female parts of a flower on another tree. 

But this doesn’t always happen.

We know that agroforestry cannot replace the natural forest, but it can compensate for and restore past historical deforestation by imitating nature and re-establishing symbiosis between species.
A farmer lays cocoa beans out to dry on reed mats, on a cocoa farm outside the village of Fangolo, May 2011
A farmer lays cocoa beans out to dry on reed mats, on a cocoa farm outside the village of Fangolo, May 2011AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell

A recent study published in the Journal of Agriculture and Food Research found that Ghanian cocoa farmers who adopted artificial pollination showed an improvement in their productivity (yields grew between 1.93-15.34%), income increased (€175.97-449.46), reduction in poverty (0.83-3.53%), and increase in food security (1-3%).

Plus, irrigation systems need to be a priority. Cocoa farmers can no longer rely on the two rainy periods of the year — major rains from April to July and minor rains from September to November. 

Climate change includes unpredictable weather patterns, including extremely high temperatures and long droughts. If we have adequate water availability during the critical growth stages, we can face these problems head-on.

Stop focusing on price — think of investment

There has also been a paradigm shift in agriculture, and we must adjust our businesses. The EU Deforestation Regulation (EUDR) requires us to show that our beans are deforestation-free and legal, and the Human Rights and Environmental Due Diligence (HREDD) regulations require us to implement monitoring and remediation systems more effectively regarding big issues like child labour and equal opportunities for women.

Programs like Fairtrade’s Ghana Agroforestry for Impact (GAIM) Project that began in the Ahafo region in 2023 have started to help. This project works to support three Fairtrade-certified cooperatives in their agroecological transition and crop diversification to promote diversity in cocoa farmers' sources of income and inclusion of more women. 

Fairtrade certification means that the farmers and workers are getting a fair deal on their goods, farms prioritise workers’ rights, and environmental standards are being followed. 

To improve the lives of farmers and their communities and help them earn a living income, we need to stop focusing only on price and place our attention on investment.
A farmer opens a Cocoa pod in Divo, November 2023
A farmer opens a Cocoa pod in Divo, November 2023Sophie Garcia/Copyright 2024 The AP. All rights reserved

We know that agroforestry cannot replace the natural forest, but it can compensate for and restore past historical deforestation by imitating nature and re-establishing symbiosis between species. 

This boosts biomass production, improves the microclimate of farmland, and reduces input costs by increasing plot productivity. Agroforestry is also a way for households to diversify and increase their income, thanks to shade trees that produce additional crops for sale.

To improve the lives of farmers and their communities and help them earn a living income, we need to stop focusing only on price and place our attention on investment. 

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That is how we can help dictate the global market and help the 800,000 cocoa farmers in Ghana. Take my word for it.

Emmanuel Nana Sarpong is the President of the Fair Trade Ghana Network, which champions sustainable agriculture in Ghana’s fair trade environment. He also serves as the President of the Asunafo North Cooperative Farmers Union, which is made up of 75 cocoa cooperatives, including 19,052 farms. He is also a cocoa farmer.

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