Visit to Ghana – Attending a farmer field school
Note: This post is authored by Nico Schiller, Corporate Affairs Manager at Mars Chocolate Germany
Birds twittering in the rainforest, the steady chirp of cicadas. We are on a press trip to Ghana initiated by UTZ CERTIFIED and Mars Chocolate Germany to visit cocoa plantations. Sitting near the village of Gyankokrom in the middle of a cocoa tree field, an agrarian expert is explaining to cocoa farmers how they can achieve yields that may be up to four times above normal for as long as 20 years, if they comply with the UTZ CERTIFIED criteria. This includes advice about how to fertilize and spray the plants, the amount of space to leave, the amount of optimal light and where to cut branches.
If farmers utilize these techniques and principles, they can expect a greater harvest. A young female farmer with her one-year-old daughter wrapped in a piece of cloth on her back confirms this: besides cooking bananas, cassava and maize, she is harvesting three times as many sacks of cocoa on the land she inherited from her mother.
Mars Chocolate also supports the farmer’s increase in yield because cocoa demand is rising by two percent every year – and because there is no longer any cultivable acreage available in Ghana. Millions of small holders nourish their cocoa plants in every available spot between the sky-high shade trees – because cocoa is not a crop of the field but of the forest. The importance of land is also emphasized on Ghanaian television. On prime time TV following national football matches, GTV broadcasts the agricultural training program: “How to fight weeds on your cocoa plantation!”
The village of Gyankokrom we visit faces another challenge: it’s located in the thicket of Kakrum National Park near the Ghanaian coast and can only be reached via a bumpy dirt road. Therefore the UTZ certification is a chance for the village farmers to improve their yields while complying with the strict ecological criteria and responsibility required from living and farming in the middle of a rainforest national park. In addition to the farmers’ cooperative, independent auditors check to ensure that the standards are adhered to several times in a year.
One of the farmers here is 43-year-old Charles Kwabena Agyemong. He already feels the positive effects after beginning the changeover last September. Another farmer can afford an aluminium roof for his mud house. At a spontaneous meeting in the village center, a third farmer expressed that it was now clearly easier to pay the school fees for his children. Agyemong, who with his seven hectares has comparatively much more land, is virtually bubbling with enthusiasm:
“My farm changed, it is now running well”, he says.
“Earlier, we just got by somehow,” another farmer explains. But by the end of this year he will gain the certificate of UTZ CERTIFIED.