PUTTING GHANA’S COCOA SECTOR ON A FIRMER FOOTING…LET THE YOUTH LEAD THE WAY
5/30/2012 10:46:39 PM -
Ghana is still bustling with excitement over last year's achievement of the long dreamt one million metric tonnes of cocoa production. Off course, the accomplishment is no mean a feet, and is very much worth celebrating by all. 'Mission accomplished' is what everyone seem to be saying; the hard work of stakeholders have paid off, and we are gradually plugging the very deep loopholes that caused cocoa production in Ghana to hit an all time low in the 1983/84 cocoa season, when production level was only about one tenth of last year's cocoa production. We are rehabilitating moribund cocoa farms, reducing pest and disease attack through the mass cocoa spraying exercise, providing subsidies on fertilizers for farmers, paying them higher prices for cultivated cocoa, and the list goes on.
But there is one of very downside of the cocoa sector that is often over looked in most of these discussions. Cocoa production in Ghana is mainly being undertaken by the aged. The average age of Ghana's cocoa farmer according to research is pegged at between 50 and 55 years. Cocoa farming is not being seen by farmers and upcoming young people as a business opportunity from which decent income flow could be earned; but as a way of life, which one must move away from once circumstances get better. Clearly, the future sustainability of the cocoa sector is under threat because it would hit a downturn again once the mass elderly generation of cocoa producers are forced by weak limbs and tired feet to lay down their tools. This must not be allowed to happen.
The active participation of young educated people in cocoa production is not only vital for the future sustainability of the cocoa sector, but also for increased productivity on the cocoa farm, which would translate into higher income earnings from the cocoa industry. In Malaysia, farmers are on the average producing 1800 kg of cocoa beans from each hectare of farm land, while their Ghanaian counterparts produce only about 360 kg. How do we catch up with the Malaysians? By applying ingenuity and modernization to the practice of cocoa production, which you can count on young and educated people to do if they go into the sector.
Research has found that the farms of young and more educated persons tend to be more productive than those of older farmers, and young people were more likely to introduce innovative production methods, hence attracting and retaining young farmers into the sector is thus essential for the long-term sustainability and growth of the cocoa sector. That is why it would not be in the interest of the nation for any young person who gets the opportunity, to miss out on the participation of any forum that brings together young people, to mentor them and give them directions on how they can successfully venture into cocoa production entrepreneurship. One of such platforms was the cocoa seminar recently held on the campus of the Garden City University College at Kenyasi in the Ashanti Region. The seminar was put together by Cadbury Cocoa Ambassador Priscilla Oppong and her other colleagues at KNUST, as part of activities by the cocoa ambassadors to mentor more young people to go into cocoa production.
It was an eye opening experience, sitting along with hundreds of other young people from the two universities to acquire knowledge from seasoned agric industry players including the Business Development Manager at the Cadbury Cocoa Partnership Anita Adomako, General Manager at the Kuapa Kokoo Credit Union Charles Hagan, and Executive Director of Agro Mindset Organization David Asiamah. Here are a few points I picked from the seminar. With PowerPoint slides detailing the calculations, it was revealing to hear from the speakers, a case study of how a capital investment of 3500 cedis invested into the production of one hectare of cocoa farmland could generate a profit margin of about 1500 cedis in the first year of fruiting, subsequent to which an annual profit of 4500 cedis could be made from that cocoa farm.
Fears that cocoa farmers would have to wait for at least three years to begin benefiting from their investments because the trees take a long time to bear fruits was allayed with the explanation that additional crop plants like plantain which are grown to give shade to the young cocoa trees mature in less time for the cocoa farmer to harvest and begin profiting from. Young people were encouraged not to be risk averse as far as cocoa production is concerned, because with other world economies in decline, the surest way for poverty alleviation in Africa lies in highly educated young people venturing into agric production and for that matter the cocoa sector. It was interesting to note that unlike other agric production sectors, one's investment is secured as far as cocoa production is concerned, because COCOBOD pays stable prices for all cocoa produced by the farmers.
At the end of the session, we were all mentored to understand how we can position ourselves as young people to harvest our portions of the 1.5 billion US Dollars that the cocoa sector injects on yearly basis into the Ghanaian economy. We were convinced that the active participation of young people in cocoa production has benefits for not only the young cocoa farmers themselves, but Ghana as a country. There are endless challenges which would militate against young people in their efforts to attempt starting entrepreneurship ventures in cocoa production, but as one of the speakers said at the cocoa seminar, 'show me someone who is humble enough to accept a challenge and courageous to take whatever initiative is necessary to creatively work through or around, and I will show you a successful person.' How motivational.
It is our believe that apart from all the efforts being undertaken to boost cocoa production in the country, government and the private sector's commitment to sustaining the future of cocoa production and placing the sector on a firmer footing cannot be complete if policies are not initiated to encourage more young people to go into cocoa production as a business venture. This is even more imperative looking at the fact that graduates are in these days finding it more difficult than ever to secure white collar jobs after school. This is why such seminars are important for students. As one of the participating students said in a conversation after the program; 'I have been challenged not to carry my file in my armpit and set out in a hunt for an office job after school, but rather to get into the rural cocoa communities to be my own employer, managing my own cocoa farms.'
Across all spheres of human society, there is a serious scramble for intelligent young people to take up the front rows. From politics, to civil society organizations, to the business fields, to the religious arena, there is a desperate effort to place young people in operational positions to revolutionize those sectors, and the agric sector, particularly the cocoa production industry is no exception. In the awakening light and need for youth engagement in the agricultural production sector, the Cadbury Cocoa Ambassadorial Program which seeks to mentor young people to take up cocoa production using the young empowering young cannot be underestimated. Through the establishment of Cocoa Reading Clubs and cocoa demonstration gardens for schools in rural communities, as well as voluntary programs in cocoa communities and cocoa seminars for tertiary students, the program is seeking to get young people to believe again the profession of their fathers - cocoa production - which has remained the mainstay of Ghana's economy since time immemorial. As one of the speakers Mr. Asiamah of Agro Mindset whose organization has the vision of building a green revolution in Africa said, Cadbury should be commended for the foresight in instituting this program for the youth because the future of agriculture lies in the younger generation, coming through to provide succession, add enthusiasm, bring fresh ideas and drive innovation in the sector.
By Joseph Opoku Gakpo
Student, Agric Faculty, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology