Each year in June, around 100 Oikocredit members and staff gather for the annual general meeting (AGM) in a different country. This year, the AGM is taking place in Ghana’s capital, Accra. After a week of meetings, everyone is looking forward to the partner visits – a chance to see first-hand what Oikocredit’s work in Ghana looks like.
Participants can select between visits to three different Oikocredit partners: solar company PEG Africa, microfinance bank Opportunity International Savings and Loans and cocoa buying company FEDCO. I decide on the latter – we are, after all, in the second largest cocoa bean producing country in the world.
We make our way out of Accra and after a couple of hours, the landscape starts changing and we see lush, green hills – we’ve arrived in cocoa farming land. Our first stop is in Kwabeng, a district town about 120 km north of the capital, where we meet members of the local FEDCO society.
“A society is made up of around 50 cocoa farmers who bring their cocoa to the local collection point and sell it to the FEDCO purchasing clerk,” explains Victor Afatsawo, programme sustainability manager at FEDCO. “Once enough cocoa has been collected, the clerk sends the cocoa to the district warehouse from where it is transported to the port and exported.”
Victor explains that over 100,000 smallholder cocoa farmers sell their cocoa to FEDCO and 10,000 of them have UTZ certification. The premium that the 10,000 farmers receive for their sustainable cocoa is used to build schools, drill boreholes for water access or other social interventions – the communities decide themselves which intervention they want.
FEDCO also provides training in good agricultural practices such as appropriate harvesting, drying, fermentation and handling during transport. Trainings are not the only reason why the farmers choose to sell to FEDCO. “FEDCO deals truthfully with us,” says cocoa farmer Opanyin Yaw Nkrumah. “We don’t have to wait to be paid and we receive a bonus at the end of the year.”
Our next stop is the cocoa farm of Ofori Amanfo, one of the Kwabeng society members, which we reach via red dirt roads. In the field we meet one of Ofori’s family members who shows us how to cut the cocoa pods from the tree trunk. It is ‘minor season’ and the pods are ready to be harvested – Ofori just kept them on the trees for us to see. During ‘major season’ from October to January, even more cocoa pods will be on the trunks.
Ofori explains that the size of his family’s planation is three acres (1.2 ha). The family owns another plantation of seven acres (2.8 ha) but this one is currently being rejuvenated. Cocoa trees can live to be 50 years old or more – the oldest trees on Ofori’s plantation are 20 years old – and replacing them is a challenge, he explains: “At the moment money is a problem because I cannot harvest any cocoa on the seven acres.”
Ofori has, however, planted food crops on the plantationwhich provide shade for the young cocoa trees and help to make up for some of the income loss. When financial means are scarce, FEDCO supports the farmers by providing an advance on the payment for the cocoa harvest so that farmers can buy inputs. This is very important, explains Ofori. “FEDCO is good for us because they give us advances,” he says.