Focus: Exploring a year in the life of a new cocoa farm in Ghana

Editor Neill Barston speaks to Marc Jean-Baptiste (left of pic, below), a high school teacher from Boston, US, on establishing a project in Eastern Ghana, working with a small team of five, who have operated a new cocoa farm for the past year. He discusses the state of the cocoa sector in the West African nation, as well as plans for the upcoming living differential payments being unveiled for farmers from this autumn in a drive for greater sustainability within the key cocoa sector.

Q: It’s been a year since you started your cocoa farm in Ghana. How has the experience been?

A: So far, so good. Doing business in Africa can be a little challenging, but if you have a reliable team around you things will be okay. Ghana is a good place to do business, as the people are friendly and the government is fair.

Q: What was the original inspiration for your venture and what have been your biggest challenges?

A: My original inspiration is the African continent itself. I believe Africa is finally experiencing an industrial revolution and I want to be part of it. I’ve also been inspired by the Ghanaian cocoa farmers, as they are very intelligent and hard working. I believe that Ghana’s cocoa industry can be a lot more productive if modern agricultural methods are used. Africa’s lack of economic development has been a great challenge, but we knew that when we decided to start a farming company in Ghana. But these same challenges have presented opportunities that do not exist elsewhere in the world.

Q: Cocoa markets have been hit hard by the pandemic. How has this impacted on your business?

A: In January before the pandemic, cocoa was trading at US$2,800 per metric ton. By July 2020, the price went down to $2,150. Since our farm is only a year old, we have not yet been impacted, but I’m sure we will feel these falling cocoa prices the minute we start harvesting our crops. We currently have about 8,000 cocoa trees on 20 acres of land. We also planted cassava and bananas to offset any decrease in cocoa prices.

Q: There are plans for a ‘living differential’ income to be paid to farmers in Ghana and Ivory Coast – will it make a difference?

A: I am all for farmers making more money. But farmers in Africa need access to land. The average cocoa farmer in Ghana, has only about six acres of land to farm. High cocoa prices don’t really mean anything if you don’t have any land to farm. African governments have to modernise their land-use laws, so the local farmers, especially women, can acquire more acreage to really reap the benefits of these future cocoa prices they keep talking about.

Q: What do you enjoy most about your work?

A: Personally, I enjoy watching my ideas come to life. I love thinking of something and see it carried out by my team on the farm. I’ve worked for other people all my life. Being in charge of your own destiny feels good, even when all the blame and responsibility fall on your shoulders.

Q: How do you feel about the future of the sector?

A: I think Africa should move away from the smallholder farming system, and move towards environmentally-friendly industrial farming. I strongly believe that modernising Africa’s agriculture will lead to higher yields and higher incomes for all
farmers. I truly believe that the future of cocoa and chocolate depends on Africa’s ability to adopt advanced agricultural practices. Today’s African youths are very technologically oriented. They are turned off by unnecessary manual labour and the lack of gadgets. In Ghana, more and more farmers are giving up on cocoa. Especially the young, as they see more opportunities for themselves in the bustling cities.

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