This summer, I had the good fortune to do another ACDI/VOCA Farmer-to-Farmer volunteer assignment. I evaluated financial record keeping, and Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) adoption and cost-benefit, among Ghanaian cocoa farmers. It was a great experience that allowed me to put my cacao sector work and academic training to good use, and get to know Ghana’s wonderful people and culture.
ACDI/VOCA fosters farmer group formation, agricultural training (GAP), market access and agribusiness development through its Specialty Crops division, which developed this assignment. The objectives:
– survey farmers on financial record keeping adoption and challenges, and GAP adoption and cost-benefit
– draft a report with recommendations to improve farmers’ uptake and success with record keeping and GAP
– create record keeping materials for farmers, and draft guidance on training and materials use
– create a GAP cost-benefit/ROI tool, for ACDI/VOCA use
GAP training helps farmers learn basic yet effective crop management practices to increase yield and profits, such pruning, weeding, fertilizing, pest control and the use of better germplasm. Efforts to facilitate and motivate farm financial record keeping have increased across the agricultural sector, as stakeholders seek to help farmers adopt a business mindset that helps them boost yield and profits further.
Prior to the three-week stay in country, I developed a farmer survey and refined it with ACDI/VOCA’s fantastic Specialty Crops team (including Managing Director, TJ Ryan, one of my inspirations in transitioning to development).
I spent my first week in Accra, Ghana finalizing the survey questions and design, interviewing ACDI/VOCA staff about Ghanaian cocoa farming and their programs; and meeting with representatives from the Ghana Cocoa Board (Cocobod), Armajaro (trader), SourceTrust (Armajaro’s development non-profit) and the World Cocoa Foundation (WCF). ACDI/VOCA staff Catherine and Prince were wonderful to work with, and quickly set up logistics for surveys in the Ashanti and Central regions.
At the start of week two, I flew to Kumasi, in the Ashanti region, then rode south to the New Edubiase district. We traveled through beautiful green country and passed many colorfully dressed churchgoers, as it was Sunday. Along with Bawah, a fantastic extension agent, I surveyed farmers in three villages over a few days. These farmers had participated in training on record keeping through the WCF Cocoa Livelihoods Program (CLP), as well as ACDI/VOCA’s agricultural training. They were quite proud of their quality cocoa and record keeping efforts. After the surveys, I visited a Business Service Center in New Edubiase, established via the WFC CLP. These provide one-stop-shopping for inputs, planting material and credit—which is particularly difficult for farmers to access. On the day we visited, farmers were lined up to purchase fertilizer, which had just become available and was months late in arriving. Cocoa farming is no easy task as is, and such logistical challenges compound that.
After a few days in New Edubiase, I rode further south to Assin Foso, in the Central Region. There, I met with Armajaro/SourceTrust staff to finalize survey plans for the district. Early the next morning, I set out for village interviews with Edmund, a recent high-school graduate who would translate in the local language. We interviewed farmers in three villages over two days. Edmund had an excellent manner with the farmers, and was a quick study on the survey questions and cacao farming, making him an incredible asset. The farmers in this district had not received the WCF CLP record keeping training, and did not have access to a BSC, making farming more challenging for them.
With the surveys completed (56 in all), the weekend arrived…giving me ample time for data entry, analysis, report writing and materials development. I also enjoyed runs, walks through town, and ample amounts of kenkey, red red and other goods from wonderful food vendors. After a few days of computer work in New Edubiase, I rode back to Accra with ACDI/VOCA’s driver, who imparted a wealth of information about the country. We passed a refugee camp and drive through Cape Coast, where an old slave trade castle stands as a stark reminder of the slave trade.
In week three, I completed my analyses, report draft and materials; and presented these to a cross-sector stakeholder group in Accra. Overall, the results indicated that farmers had a high interest in record keeping and adopted it if they received training, but did so at varying levels if trained due to varied literacy and numeracy skills. The WCF CLP materials are very comprehensive, and a model for other sectors, though producers seem to need secondary schooling to understand and use them. In my recommendations, I included ways to address this such as pairing up farmers with different skill levels. The WCF CLP materials also include only an annual budget form, and recalling costs and sales over this time frame can be challenging for anyone. To address this, I created a monthly cost-income tracking log and a year-by-month budget sheet for farmers. Regarding GAP implementation and cost-benefit, farmers demonstrated high adoption with variation in extent (e.g., amount of fertilizer used, frequency of pesticide spraying). Cost-benefit analyses indicated positive returns. Cocobod’s Cocoa Manual has a Net Present Value sheet that served as the basis for the GAP cost-benefit/ROI tool (spreadsheet).
Overall, this assignment was a fabulous experience, and I hope it will be of some benefit for the farmers and ACDI/VOCA’s programs. Many thanks to all the farmers, translators, ACDI/VOCA staff, and partners for incredible assistance and information. Ghana is terrific —I highly recommend a visit, and plan to return to see and get to know more of it. Ghanaians were all very friendly, and I enjoyed seeing bit of my surroundings during morning runs.