At 16, she was pregnant and dropped out of middle school. At 17, she became a single mother of twins and had no income, living with her extended family. Today, at 22, Linda Afedzi is a cocoa farmer with ambitions to save enough money to return to school to study medicine. Linda’s life has really taken quite a turn, thanks to a Mastercard Foundation supported program, MASO, unfolding in the rural villages of Ghana.
Before MASO came to this community, I was unemployed like so many others. Now, I am the owner of a cocoa farm through the help of the MASO program. – Linda Afedzi
Linda comes from the village of Liate Wote in the Volta Region of Ghana. Until wide ranging bush fires destroyed their farms some years ago, Liate Wote was a major cocoa and coffee producing center. Today it survives mostly by serving the tourists who visit nearby Afadjato, Ghana’s highest peak, and Tagbo Falls.
Linda’s mother is a trader and has a small maize farm. Her father is a carpenter. Most of the village youth, whether they completed high school or dropped out, are unemployed and have little to do.
“Before Solidaridad came to this community, we had no jobs and no training. We had nothing meaningful to do since we left school. Some of my mates who travelled to the major cities have returned because the situation is almost the same there,” Linda said.
The MASO program came to Liate Wote in 2016 and Linda enrolled to be trained as a professional cocoa farmer. “I did not know anything about cocoa farming. After joining the program, I have learnt so much about budgeting, child labor, planting, and other good practices on the farm.” MASO (the name means to lift or raise up in Twi, the language of the Ashanti region), implemented by a Solidaridad-led consortium funded by the Mastercard Foundation, is designed to solve two problems:
- help rehabilitate the cocoa industry
- provide meaningful opportunities for unemployed youth
The cocoa industry in Ghana is facing challenges. Farmers are aging; their productivity is low, as are their incomes. Their children are not interested in becoming cocoa farmers if it means living a subsistence level existence. So few farmers are making the necessary investments in new cocoa trees, better farming practices, etc. At the same time, in the same villages, villages just like Liate Wote, large numbers of youth are unemployed, with few opportunities in sight. MASO is showing these youth that cocoa farming, if operated as a business, can provide an adequate livelihood and a fulfilling life. The year-long program provides training in basic life skills, financial skills, good agricultural practices, and business skills. It links them to financial services including bank accounts, banking cards and, eventually, to credit. Through its alumni program, it ensures continuing education and peer learning. Recognizing the special challenges for young women like Linda, MASO also offers daycare facilities near many of the training sites. While most training programs are mixed, a few offer opportunities to undertake training in an all-female setting.
So far, MASO has established cocoa training programs in more than 100 villages across five cocoa growing regions of the country. More than 2,000 youth completed the program in its first year and a second cohort of 2,500 is roughly half way through its training. An additional 2-3,000 will follow each year. For those not inclined to become farmers, an entrepreneurial training program, enabling the youth to provide services to support the cocoa industry, has been set up in 28 additional villages.
A MASO class on pruning and air circulation in cocoa plantations being given amongst the cocoa trees
The first cohort has already planted more than 1,000 hectares of cocoa seedlings. Linda planted one acre provided to her by a neighbor, after her family reneged on an initial offer of land. Until her seedlings mature in three years and produce their first cocoa pods, the maize and cassava she planted will give shade to the seedlings and provide food and extra income for her and her now 6-year-old twins.
There are tens of thousands of youth in rural Ghana facing a lack of opportunities just as Linda did before MASO came to her village. Solidaridad, together with partners Ashesi University, Opportunity International, Fidelity Bank, Aflatoun and the Ghana Cocoa Board have, with MASO, embarked on an ambitious program to rejuvenate the cocoa sector across the entire country. We’ve made great progress and the program is showing tremendous promise.
I am farming now through the help of Solidaridad. I owe them everything I have gotten now. – Linda Afedzi
Of course, Linda is only one of the thousands of youth trying to establish a career, a living, in the cocoa industry in Ghana. She and her colleagues still have much to do. Their villages, families and neighbors are providing access to land. But, they also need other inputs – fertilizer, pesticides, tools etc., and these require money.
What we need now, therefore, is for financial institutions to step up, recognize the potential in the graduates of this program and make investments in their businesses, in their futures, and in the future of an industry that is vital to Ghana and to Africa.
Photos by Lamisi Dabire.
This blog was originally published on LinkedIn.