In my last article I highlighted the poor state of infrastructure in cocoa communities. A situation, which coupled with low incomes of farmers has resulted in poverty, deprivation and poor quality of life of rural settlers. The situation places rural children in cocoa farms in a disadvantaged position.
Interestingly, the toil and labour of their parents and guardians significantly supports the entire Ghanaian economy.
Such rural children on cocoa farms have limited or no access to education. The situation is worse with access to ICT and other developmental infrastructure. In my previous article, I additionally stressed on the need for more collaborated effort from government and international stakeholders in cocoa industry in alleviating this anomaly.
I intend to highlight certain complications plaguing the future of cocoa production. Additionally, I also intend to alert how the rural children on the cocoa farms hold the key to a sustainable future for cocoa production in the country. It all depends on opportunities provided for them!
Historic & Current Developments
In 1998, Cocobod and other private institutions conducted a thorough research and identified two constraints facing cocoa industry. The constraints are the aging population of farmers, and the migration of young people from cocoa producing areas in the rural areas.
To add to these concerns is the fact that cocoa production levels are declining. Total yields for the 2018/19 is expected to probably hover around 850, 000 tons. Other factors attributed to this year on year decline are diseased and aged cocoa trees.
The situation raises concern about the likelihood that cocoa production can be increased and sustained in the future. Not forgetting the poverty and low incomes of rural cocoa farmers which has contributed to young people’s disinterest in farming. These socio-economic factors directly hinge on the quality of life provided for young people in rural areas. The generational gap in cocoa production can only be filled if rural children are adequately prepared to appreciate and take up cocoa farming
Young People Encouraged
The nature of small holder farming which forms about 90% of farming activity in Ghana is undoubtedly unattractive to young people. This situation has sunk down well with stakeholders in the cocoa industry and I commend them for initiatives taken so far to encourage the youth to embark on farming. From 2016, an inception of MASO training program, launched by Cocobod and supported by Solidaridad has seen about 10,000 young people undergo various stages of training to equip them with essential skills in cocoa farming to encourage them to take opportunities within the entire cocoa value chain. The program is a measure to fill the generational gap and curtail the threat of aging farmers to cocoa production.
Train and Develop Young People in Cocoa Communities
This is where the plight of young people in cocoa communities should come to our attention. I believe more effort should be geared towards harnessing their skills and potential to enable them to successfully take up the farming profession of their parents and or relatives. The rural children in the cocoa farms are born and bred in the communities and are familiar with the terrain. They mostly have acquired sufficient everyday knowledge of farming through constant work on the farms. Most of them may be idle school drop outs, some might not have had opportunity to attend school at all.
This is their story and therefore they should be considered for practical interventions. They should benefit from skills acquisition and training on farming. This will spur interest and consequently give the rural children the necessary skills and a focused career path for the cocoa business. This is one way cocoa production could be sustained and improved.
There may be a minority of young people in rural areas who might have gone into cocoa farming. However, these young people would welcome training in good agricultural practices such as replanting of aged farms. This would help minimise the application of crude farming methods which are detrimental to production.
One important aspect is to get the aging cocoa farmers involved in the practical training of the young people. Farmers need to embrace the essentials of succession planning and be prepared to involve young people in the various stages of cocoa production. Irrespective of trends in mechanized farming, traditional farmers ought to transfer certain essential practices to young people at an early age to nurture interest in farming.
Bringing in the other concern of youth migration from cocoa communities which further contributes to the threat of low output, readers would agree with me that amongst others, one solution is to create a conducive environment in the rural areas to minimise incidences of migration because of deprived settings. Young people obviously migrate in search of “greener pastures”, a natural occurrence with every human tribe. Amenities such as credible schools, hospitals, clean drinking water should be readily accessible in cocoa communities to curtail this quest for a comfortable life elsewhere.
The current initiative by governments of Ghana and Cote D’Ivoire to reach an agreement with cocoa buyers that will introduce a living income differential of $400 per tonne of cocoa sold on the international market may be an added step in the right direction. The incentive is to boost the earnings of cocoa farmers which I hope will attach some appeal to the profession. The labelling of cocoa farmers as “poor” ought to be altered. This is achievable if farmers’ earnings are increased and such increase is sustained and it becomes evident in an enhanced quality of life. This would be an incentive for young people to go into cocoa farming. Especially, for the majority in rural areas with no alternatives to career prospects except to migrate to urban areas and face an uncertain future.
The rural children have an important role to play in sustainable cocoa production and should not be omitted from efforts aimed especially at curtailing the two identified concerns to sustainability of cocoa production.
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, policy analysis and industry research. Contact her on 0201196080 or email on firstname.lastname@example.org