By Paul Ndiho, Washington D.C.
West Africa accounts for nearly three quarters of the world’s cocoa production. Millions of people are employed by the sector or indirectly rely on cocoa farming to make a living. Analysts are projecting that this season cocoa production is likely to surpass more than 2.8 million tons during a year-long period that began in October 2012.
The West African nations of Ivory Coast and Ghana are the two leading Cocoa producers in the world followed by other producers including, Nigeria, and Cameroon. The majority of cocoa produced in the region is grown by small-scale farmers who are located in remote areas.
Cocoa farmer Eugene Koffi Anzoua works in his field in the Brofodoume region in Ivory Coast, picking cocoa pods, drying and cleaning the beans — all in the name of quality.
“A week after drying, we proceed to marketing our produce to buyers. If there is a co-operative, we deliver the goods to this which carries it to the port,”
Cocoa is a delicate and sensitive crop and farmers must protect trees from the wind and sun. They must also fertilize the soil and watch for signs of distress including attack from pests and disease. Some farmers have limited access to credit and have difficulty in obtaining farming supplies. Paul Mensal, secretary of a local Cocoa Farmers Association in Ghana observes that the government has not done enough to help the farmers.
“The yields for this year have gone down due to lack of spraying materials. The amount this year has decreased totally. We are suffering; pests are spoiling our Cocoa. I suggest that the government must supply us with more chemicals. The price that the government is giving us is very, very low. Its two dollars to the kilo and we the farmers suggest that they must buy that at five dollars,”
The World Cocoa Foundation, a Washington, D.C –based international organization committed to ensuring cocoa sustainability through agricultural, environmental and development, is working with cocoa farmers to address some of these challenges. Bill Guyton, President, W-C-F says his foundation is empowering the communities by training farmers, enhancing education, investing in families, and improving community health and welfare.
“We’re formed in 2000 to help improve cocoa sustainability in all three cocoa regions of the world but because of the importance of West Africa a lot of our programs focus on that region. We’re currently working on three major regional programs. The first one is called the cocoa livelihoods program which is funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation and 16 of our company members as well as the Germany Development Agency. The program is to reach over 200,000 cocoa farmers over the next few years with the intent of doubling incomes. So it’s a very ambitious program but it’s also making some very good progress.”
Ivory Coast and Ghana have introduced stricter standards that require farmers in the cocoa sector to reform. The reforms are aimed at improving farmers’ incomes and encouraging reinvestment in old plantations; the standards will also push farmers to develop better drying and fermentation practices.
However, Ivorian farmers fear that corruption threatens to undermine the process this year, as the country bounces back from a decade of economic decline caused by political instability and post-election violence. On the flip side, the tide seems to be favoring Ghana, which has had a steady economic growth and semblance of peace and stability.
Mr. Guyton who just returned from West Africa — visiting some of the projects says that improved access to inputs like fertilizers and improved planting material can help stimulate the production on the farms.
“I was encouraged to see what was actually happening on the ground with our programs. The cocoa livelihoods program for example is helping to bring about new technologies to help reduce the cost of farmer training and improve the impact on productivity and yields. So for example I visited some farmers in both of those countries who have been trained on better or good agricultural practices and with some basic training on productivity, we’ve been able to see the yields improve by up to 30 to 50 percent but that’s not good enough. What we’d like to see over time is an improvement of up to twice that amount.”
Most of the cocoa produced in West Africa is exported in raw form to Europe, the United States, and other emerging markets like India, and China, where it’s processed into other finished products.
Today, people around the world are enjoying different forms chocolate and the industry employs hundreds of thousands of people. But, critics say the chocolate industry has done little to help the farmers — and sometimes these farmers don’t know even how chocolate tastes.