In 2012, Enock Ayite (25) and Kwaku Afukweah (28) from Sefwi Wiawso woke up to a new reality. Why was this morning different than any other? They had signed up to start growing cocoa today - the country's signature crop.
Ayite and Afukweah are two of 45 young farmers who have enrolled in a joint Solidaridad and Cargill capacity building programme on Utz (the Mayan word for ‘good inside’) Cocoa Certification project launched in 2012.
The year-long project aims to enhance knowledge and capacity among Cargill workers and farmers on the cocoa certification process. Farmers are trained on Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) so as to improve their livelihood and incomes through increased crop yields. to increase their crop yields.
Despite the cocoa farming sector generating about $2 billion in foreign exchange annually, the sector struggles to attract young people even when youth unemployment rates are high. Cocoa cultivation in Ghana and across West Africa is largely dominated by older people, with an average farmer age of 51 years old.
Why? Young people tend to opt for other employment due to labour conditions, poor yields, and depressed cocoa prices. While many young people are shying away from a future in cocoa, or farming at all, for that matter, we share the stories of two young people destined for something different.
Ayite is a newlywed, who is expecting his first child shortly. It was after attending a mobilisation meeting where the cocoa capacity building and certification project was introduced that he decided his future law in growing cocoa. It was not long before he decided growing cocoa was for him.
“The mobilisation meeting laid out the benefits of certification. They were so attractive for me as a young person that I decided to take up farming as opposed to moving to the big cities to look for a job. I was convinced that cocoa certification will improve my income and livelihood,” says Ayite.
Noting the global shift towards certified agriculture products in the interest of environmental sustainability, fair trade practices, and the empowerment of farmers, Solidaridad and Cargill have invested in a programme to deliver a win-win cocoa farmers.
Farmers are first trained in the best agronomic practices for growing, which in turn, ensures their crops are certified for export to international markets. Through this project, Solidaridad trains Cargill field staff on Utz Certification. These field staff who then train lead farmers to transfer knowledge on the standard and improved agricultural practices for better yields.
Ayite harvested 25 bags in the 2012-2013 cocoa season, and now in 2013-2014 harvested 35 bags. “Improving our livelihood and increasing our income is the major source of attraction for me as it guarantees me a better life, similar to my peers and friends working in the cities,” remarked Ayite.
Afukweah, who farms on 3 acres of land, uses his cocoa farming to support his family of four children. He pays for their school fees and buy the required educational support materials for them.
Afukweah says that the capacity building project has taught him to use chemicals properly, to deal with various diseases, and learn how to apply fertilizers and organic manure to improve yields. “The project has equipped me with the appropriate agricultural practices that have seen me double my yield,” said Afukweah.
Before the programme, Afukweah’s yield totalled 15 bags and doubled to 30 bags the seasons following the training. He added that: "When I went into cocoa farming I did not have any knowledge of farming or even a clear understanding of a cocoa tree except what my father had told me. The practices then were not up to standard and we our yields were low.”
Traditional cocoa farming practices do not emphasize good agricultural practices, such as the benefits of pruning and proper fertilizer application. Furthermore, the cost of and access to fertilizers remains a major challenge for many farmers, who often have to travel long distances to buy inputs.
Often cocoa farmers like Afukweah cannot rely upon the government fertilizer subsidy programme to deliver the fertilizer on time. Learning how to navigate these challenges, and how to do more with less, has ensured that Afukweah can continue in his father’s footsteps while also caring for the needs of his family.
Through these efforts, not only have Ayite’s and Afukweah’s livelihoods and incomes alongside their yields, the Ahwiaa community has sold a total of 768 bags of Utz Certified beans during the 2013-2014 cocoa season. The money from these cocoa sales is reinvested into the local community and it contributes to improving the livelihoods of farmers and their families.