Cocoa has been the backbone of the Ghanaian economy through the last century; playing a major role in employment, foreign exchange earnings, government revenue, and infrastructural development.
With the country’s ranking as a top world supplier of cocoa, second only to the Ivory Coast, the commodity is a major contributor to earnings and GDP, usually in the region of USD2billion annually. Proceeds from cocoa regularly trickle down into the pockets of farmers in rural areas, which directly helps to improve livelihoods in such communities.
Despite the key role cocoa production plays in the development of the nation, it is an understatement to describe cocoa communities as deprived and the reality on the ground may be worse than one can imagine. Basic infrastructure such as schools, health, roads, water and electricity are minimal or practically non-existent in some of these communities. To add to this, cocoa farmers and their families struggle to make ends meet on a daily basis, leading to poor quality of life.
It is unacceptable that conditions in cocoa producing communities are this deplorable, judging from the massive and ever increasing value of the global chocolate industry. The market was valued at US$ 43.13 Bn in 201 and Fortune Business Insights has predicted that the global cocoa and chocolate market will grow at a rate of 5.7% and will be valued at US$ 67.22 Bn by 2025
The deplorable state of affairs in our cocoa communities has a direct consequence on the livelihoods of children raised in such communities. Let’s consider these two questions. How do children learn in an already disadvantaged environment and with the absence of schools? Secondly, what tools would they be exposed to from the environment and what cues would they pick up from such exposure?
I chose to particularly discuss the poor quality of life of children in cocoa growing areas to further contribute to the topic of child exploitation on cocoa farms. Children are naturally adventurous; they tend to be ‘busy bodies’ who love to explore their environments. This trait is what aids learning as they grow up. In the absence of formal education, if the learning environment of a child is limited to farmlands, cocoa trees, beans and equipment, this becomes the world to them; hence they will in turn explore such environment to the full. The exploration implies helping out with farming activity, and sometimes engaging in hazardous activities, which may normally be termed worst forms of child labour. Their livelihoods are limited to handling machettes and working on farmlands. This sounds dangerous to most of us but it is the norm in our deprived cocoa communities.
Cocoa communities in Ghana are desperate for infrastructural development. The horizon of learning should be extended for children in such communities. Government and industry stakeholders ought to rise up to the challenge. A recent collaboration between the Harkin-Engel Protocol, governments of Cote D’Ivoire and Ghana, U.S. Labour Department with other stakeholders, has birthed a commitment to provide education, training, and livelihood support and develop physical and social infrastructure in cocoa communities in Ghana and Cote D’Ivoire. The aim is to provide interventions to help reduce the worst forms of child labour by 2020.
14th June, 2019 was a great day in the lives of people of Ankra Manua cocoa community in the Bibiani Anwiaso Bekwai Municipality. The community and representatives of Olam witnessed the opening of their new Kindergarten (KG) block. The International Cocoa Initiative (ICI) collaborated with the district assembly and the community child protection committee (CCPC) construct the 2-classroom structure with an office and a storeroom. This new structure replaces an existing dilapilated block which had served as classroom block for a long time.
This article commends these agencies for their contribution but I need to stress that a lot more is required to bridge the development gap in the quality of life between the urban child and the child growing up in cocoa community who would play a key role in the future of our cocoa industry.
I’m advocating for further interventions to enhance the quality of life of children in such communities. The basic standard is for each cocoa growing community to have a school with a free food canteen. Education is a universal right of every child and the rural child is no exception. I would further suggest that each school provides a nutritious meal for the children. This will encourage attendance and concentration during lessons. Formal education would curtail idleness and the resultant exploitation of children on farmlands. Children will further develop the intellectual capability to enable them explore more efficient farming methods for enhanced cocoa production in the future.
The obligation is on cocoa communities to churn out educated and enlightened individuals who will one day step into the shoes of the present old-aged and traditional farmers. Education will ultimately break the vicious cycle of poverty stemming from illiteracy, poor farming methods and low production. Attending school should not completely replace the opportunity for children to help out on the farm. The expectation would be for the child to regularly assist with farming activity during school breaks. This will initially generate interest in the occupation and also instill basic farming skills in the children.
Beyond the formal classroom education, attention should be paid to developing the physical, social, and vocational abilities of such children. I’m calling for the construction of child development centres in cocoa communities. International agencies may take up this challenge. Managed by key workers, such facilities could include recreational area, libraries, computer laboratories, sport facilities and social area for vocational skills training. Opportunity for total education and development should be available for rural children.
There should be no compromises in giving these children the best, to ensure they are well developed to take up the mandate of managing cocoa production in the future.
Amma is a management consultant with M-DoZ Consulting based in Ghana. She has 15 years of industry and consulting experience and served companies in various industries in the area of strategic planning, human resource development, business development, risk management, policy analysis and industry research. Contact her on 0201196080 or email on email@example.com