On the trail of cocoa
At the age of 18, Paul Bukuroh Appiah started working as a cocoa farmer
In west Ghana, Oikocredit’s recent study tour accompanies the cocoa farmer Paul Bukuroh Appiah to a place where chocolate has its origins. Corinna Groß, PR Officer at Oikocredit’s support association Baden-Württemberg in Germany, shares her journey with us. She brings the tour to life and sees first-hand how Oikocredit’s partner Fedco makes life a little better for the people in the small village of Pieso.
At dawn, we board the minibus and set off towards the west. Seven hours of driving lie ahead of us. Our destination: the cocoa plantations near Tarkwa in the Western Region. While the sun rises as a bright red ball over Accra, we push our way through the dense traffic. As we leave the bumpy city behind us, banana palms along the roadside accompany us on our way; the landscape is shrouded in thick fog brought by the Harmattan wind, typical for this time of year.
From the coast to the countryside
Then finally, we see the Atlantic Ocean gleaming between the bushes. Its colour hardly stands out against the hazy grey of the horizon. As we leave the coast and take the road towards the interior, the landscape gradually changes. Where previously isolated palm trees grew, vegetation now becomes dense alongside the road. The roads become bumpy and we have to avoid deep craters more and more often. And then, after eight hours, we arrive in Tarkwa.
May I introduce: Fedco
Tarkwa is a city in the Western Region of Ghana with 30,000 inhabitants. Oikocredit’s partner organisation Fedco (Federated Commodities Ltd) has one of its six regional offices here. Fedco is a social enterprise that buys cocoa beans from smallholder farmers and resells the cocoa to the Ghana Cocoa Board, the only exporter in Ghana. With its strong social focus, Fedco has been involved over the years in various social programmes that benefit more than 100,000 supplier farmers.
Ghana and cocoa
Ghana not only has gold within its numerous mines, but also ‘brown gold’ from its forests: cocoa beans, the essential ingredient for our beloved chocolate. In Ghana, 3.2 million people earn their livelihoods through cocoa farming. Ghana is the second largest cocoa producer in the world. Two thirds of the world's total cocoa production comes from Ghana and Côte d'Ivoire.
On the trail of the cocoa bean
We would like to get to know the farmers who benefit from the money our investors invest in Fedco via Oikocredit. The pickup truck with the Fedco colleagues drives ahead as we follow in our minibus. Red dust obscures the view of the bumpy dirt road and covers the leaves at the roadside with a dusting of what looks like pink icing sugar. While we are being shaken up, we pass cars again and again, which have obviously fell victim to the difficult dirt road and were left behind at the roadside. Please tyres, hold on!
Then finally, we reach the village of Pieso. Unplastered mud houses, colourful wooden huts and astonished children welcome us. As we get out of the minibus, the unmistakable bitter smell of cocoa beans fills the air. In single file we follow several men from the village on the path into the evergreen forest. On the trunks of the low trees, the speckled cocoa pods in red, green and yellow look like colourful sweets. The humidity is particularly high under the canopy of leaves and, in combination with the heat, causes us to sweat within a very short time. Immediately Paul and his colleagues start to cut off ripe pods with machetes. With one blow the yellow fruit is on the ground, shortly after that it is whipped open and the white flesh that envelops the precious cocoa beans oozes out. It tastes refreshingly sweetish and reminds me of lychees.
From generation to generation
“I like my work as a farmer”, Paul tells us. He had followed his father, who was also a farmer. Paul lives with his wife and four children in Pieso. He has been a cocoa farmer for 32 years. In addition, he works as a teacher in the village school and trains the trainers who teach the cocoa farmers. He sends his cocoa beans to Fedco. He is grateful for the cooperation: “The work with Fedco has created an important enterprise structure”. For example, Paul receives advance financing for his harvest when he needs money for school fees. Fedco was also involved in the construction of the village schools.
Paul is 49 years old, but the passion for his cocoa plants has far from diminished. “I hope to watch the farm grow to a very old age”. His two sons will take over one day. And his daughters? For them, Paul wants higher education and good jobs.
A good future for Pieso
Back in the village, small goats and chickens rummage for food on the bright red earth in front of the simple huts. Cocoa beans dry on large tables in the Ghanaian afternoon sun. “I hope you will come back one day to see what has changed”, Paul says as we leave. Who knows, maybe Fedco will next invest in a good road to the village.