Cocoa farmers in Ghana get a boost

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Ishmael Musah has always wanted to ascend to the highest academic level available in Ghana but blames the death of his father, a former civil servant, and the lack of resources for slowing his ascent to university.

By Abwao Oluoch in Ghana

The 22-year old has tried for three years to save money to enable him pay his school fees, but the savings have always fallen short of the amount required to meet the cost of university education in Ghana, leaving him more demoralised.

But Musah has pegged all his hopes for getting a university education on a prosperous cocoa harvest this year out of a five-hectare cocoa farm that he inherited from his late father, thanks to a new initiative to raise cocoa yields across Ghana.

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), in collaboration with several donor organisations enjoying the funding of the Japanese government, have embarked on an ambitious anti-poverty plan in the hinterland of Ghana’s cocoa-rich Ashanti region.

“My greatest desire was to continue with my education after I completed my senior high school but the continuation has become a problem, I think this is where our government should come in to assist needy cocoa farmers,” said Musah.

Ghana’s cocoa farmers are barely able to meet their daily food needs despite producing hundreds of thousands of tonnes of one of the world’s commercially-viable cash crops.

For 11 years, Musah and his father have been growing cocoa but the yield has often been disappointingly low, making it much more difficult for the farmers to cope.

However, Musah sees a glimmer of hope among the cocoa farmers in Bonsaaso in Ghana’s Amansie West District in the larger Ashanti region, which is the country’s leading source of cocoa, but has remained largely ‘deprived.’

The UNDP/Japan backed anti-poverty initiative, which targets a whole package of improvements in health care, education, infrastructure and agriculture productivity, is promising to change the fortunes of some 15,000 cocoa farmers in the Ashanti region.

Musah, using his education, has taken to the forefront of assisting other cocoa farmers to increase the crop yields by learning to harness better and fast-yielding varieties of cocoa to increase the crop production and speed up the poverty reduction plan.

“I am a facilitator on how to plant new varieties of cocoa seedlings. I have been conducting training activities for several other farmers on how to care for these seeds because for myself, I have realised that I need 430 trees for every acre,” he said.

UNDP is supporting the Millennium Villages Project, a pilot initiative on how best to save communities from the extreme poverty by empowering them to increase crop yields, increase access to health care and education.

The Ghana project was first piloted in 2006 among 10 different villages but has now extended to 30 others, covering about 400 square kilometers. The people in these villages each have a school, a community health-centre and some have vehicles donated to them.

The vehicles are given to ease the transportation of essential crop produce to the market in an initiative also aimed at empowering the farmers to get in contact with the market.

Ghana’s small-scale farmers have over the years relied on the traditional seed varieties that mature after seven years and produce less output for every acre of the planted crop.

Isaac Kankam-Boadu, an agriculture Specialist working with the Bonsaaso-based Millennium Villages Project, says Ghanaian cocoa farmers have the capacity to triple their production if the right kind of farming skills were applied.

“There is more hope for the Ghanaian farmers because as production increases and we support them to get hybrid seeds, their earnings would definitely improve,” Boadu said.

The Millennium Villages Project, funded by a Japanese grant through the UNDP, allows the Ghanaian cocoa farmers to get a 50 percent subsidy on seedlings and key inputs.

Boadu said the project had trained 26 facilitators like Musah to offer key lessons to other farmers on how to increase the cocoa yields.

“This is a practical approach to extension services. We know that the problem with cocoa farming has been weeding, which is required three times but is often not carried out or they do it once and not on time,” Boadu explained.

Ghana is one of the world’s leading producers and exporter of cocoa beans. However, the cocoa farmers are considered most deprived with the cocoa farms lacking access to the market, as the roads are impassable during heavy rainy seasons.

In Ghana’s Watreso village, 360 km west of capital Accra, another cocoa farmer, Kwassi Addai, laments the neglect of the cocoa farmers, even as they struggles to make ends meet.

“With the nation and the plant, I am not in charge…I am powerless, I am not in control of the collection and distribution of the crop. It is the responsibility of the government to determine how they want to assist the farmer and manage the drop,” said Addai, 30.

He produces 10 bags of cocoa every season, which he sells at US$75 for every 64-kg bag.

Ghana exports 750,000 metric tonnes of cocoa to the international market yearly, mostly collected from farmers like Addai and Musah, but the government is aiming to produce more than one million metric tonnes this year, if disease curbs and better farming is applied.

“We have carried out certain training programmes on how to maintain the seedlings, pruning and disease management. I weed my five acres on time with the help of community labour but I think the government should assist more,” Musah said.

He earns slightly more from his five acres and says the ”production is growing”. In the 2006/07 harvest, Musah collected 22 bags which he sold at US$55 dollars per bag.

Panapress .

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