Thousands of cocoa farmers across the country have adopted, and many more will adopt, an initiative by Wienco Ghana Limited, which promises to help increase their yields by up to about 500 percent.
Currently, most cocoa farmers (especially those who have not adopted the Wienco initiative) harvest just about three bags of the crop per acre. Those who are working with the Wienco support package have seen their yield per acre increase by up to 10 bags in the first year and 15 bags and over after 2-3 years of adoption.
Under the scheme, known as the cocoa 'Abrabopa" Package, Wienco - Ghana's leading supplier of fertiliser and other agricultural inputs – provides farmers with essential supplies and advisory services throughout the cocoa season.
The package is essentially a means to a good life for farmers who have formed farmers groups of between 5 and 15 members each. So far, in all the cocoa growing regions of the country, there are 425 such groups now existing, with an average of nine members per group.
The group guarantees input credit for its members and after the necessary legal documents are signed, Wienco starts working with group members – educating them on essential modern agricultural practises and technologies and providing them with inputs on credit.
"Farmers have been used to their own ways of doing things on their farms and these have not been bringing returns that are anything to write home about,” says Raphael Odei-Tettey, the technical manager in charge of the 'Abrabopa' scheme. “There are a whole lot of problems plaguing the industry, which we have to take a look at.
We talk about all these problems and we bring the farmers to the knowledge of the products we have.” These are the products that make up the 'Abrabopa' [or 'good life'] package.
First, there is the education on appropriate measures for maintaining the farm, to ensure that optimum growing conditions are created for the cocoa trees to bear bountiful fruit.
The farmers in the group usually gather on the farm of one of their members and listen to the practical advice of Wienco's extension staff.
They are shown when and how to undertake various cultural maintenance practices chupon removal, shade manipulation mistletoe removal, weeding etc….
After the practical demonstration of cultural maintenance, the farmers are given the inputs – 'Asaase Wura' fertiliser, Confidor 200SL which is an insecticide, Ridomil Plus and Nordox Super 75 which are fungicides and a Matabi knapsack sprayer.
Wienco's extension staff work with the farmers and guide them on how and when to apply each of these inputs.
“When we finish with the classroom work, which is the education and the briefing, we have to go into the farms at the time when each input has to be used to demonstrate to them how each input can be used”, Odei-Tettey says. “So we are there to ensure that the inputs are properly used so that we can get the desired results.”
The farmers first have to apply 'Asaase Wura' fertiliser which boosts soil fertility and helps improve the quality and taste of the cocoa beans. As the trees begin to bear fruits, fungicides – Ridomil Plus and Nordox Super 75 – should be applied to protect the pods from diseases such as blackpod.
A few months before harvest, Confidor 200 SL the insecticide must be applied at regular intervals to control pests such as capsids.
After all this, one important thing Wienco tries to train farmers to do, is to change their attitude to credit, encouraging them to repay their inputs loans according to the agreed date, to ensure sustainability of the Abrabopa Package on their farms.
Farmers who have used the 'Abrabopa' Package have seen a drastic improvement in their yields. Kojo Nkrumah, a farmer in the Assin District of the Central Region, who has been diligently following the recommended 'Abrabopa' guidelines (which are approved by the Cocoa Research Institute of Ghana), says the scheme has made him a happier and wealthier farmer.
“Before I joined the scheme, my crop yields were very low and even though many people knew me as a successful farmer, I had nothing in my account,” he says. “But with all the support and guidelines from the Wienco staff, I can say that my life has been turned around.
I harvest about nine sacks per acre compared to the two-and-a-half I was getting before I joined the 'abrabopa' scheme.”
It is testimonies like these that make the managers at Wienco realise that apart from selling their inputs they are actively contributing to increasing Ghana's cocoa production, thereby boosting the nation's foreign exchange earnings and improving the livelihoods of hundreds of farmers. And with the farmers so satisfied with the scheme, they are paying the loans back.
“With the credit we've given them we expect a minimum of 99 percent payback,” says William Kotey, Wienco's Marketing Manager. He's not the only optimistic one. Marc Kok, Wienco's General Manager in charge of Agric Services, is hopeful that the 'abrabopa' scheme can only move in one direction – up!
“Seven years ago, it was the farmers who said 'we need your help' and that's when the package started”, he says. “Through their assistance, we have been able to evolve a more comprehensive package. Every year, we are changing things to improve on the efficiency of the package, which is a tool against poverty.”
In 2006, Wienco spent approximately 1.8 million dollars on the 'abrabopa' scheme. With the successes achieved so far, the company hopes to invest even more in the next cocoa season in the hope that it could help propel Ghana back to the top of the league of the world's leading cocoa producers.
“We are recruiting more field staff to work with the farmers and our target is to reach 7000 farmers on 30,000 acres, in the year 2007” William Kotey says.
In 5 years, we hope to work with up to 50,000 farmers handling 300,000 acres, and that will be a massive impact on Ghana's Cocoa Industry.