Ghana’s cocoa sector is recovering steadily from the triple-headed problem of drought, disease and aged farms.
The challenge meant that in the past couple of years the second-largest cocoa producer nation in the world had struggled at meeting production targets for its premium cocoa beans.
The Ghana Cocoa Board (COCOBOD) which regulates the sector introduced its Productivity Enhancement Programmes (PEP) aimed at resuscitating production levels.
Annual cocoa beans output has been falling from a historic high of 1million metric tonnes in the 2010/11 crop year to an average 800,000 metric tonnes currently.
Under the PEP such initiatives as cocoa farm rehabilitation, mass spraying, hand pollination, mass pruning, fertiliser application, irrigation and continuous farmer education on good agronomic practices are being carried out in all seven cocoa-growing regions.
The implementation of this ‘combination therapy’ for Ghana’s declining cocoa yields seems to fan Cocobod’s confidence in attaining once again and possibly surpassing the 1 million metric tonnes mark in coming seasons.
In this Cocoa Post series on the PEP, we take a closer look at how each of the initiatives under the Productivity Enhancement Programme is working together for the good of Ghana cocoa, in terms of increasing bean production and also developing an environmentally responsive cocoa sector.
Unlike other plants, bees do not pollinate cocoa blooms. A tiny insect called Midge is the only insect that pollinates the complex reproductive structure of the cocoa flowers, basically due to its extremely small size.
Obviously, this results in naturally low yields hence the introduction of the hand pollination technique.
Hand pollination is the artificial process whereby pollen is collected from flowers on a tree or nearby ones and dropped on the stigma of the flower.
This process leads to cross-pollination, increasing the number of flowers pollinated daily; which then results in massive fertilisation and cherrelle development. Ghana adopted hand pollination of cocoa in 2017 as part of COCOBOD’s PEP.
The cocoa hand pollination productivity enhancement intervention commenced in June 2017, employing 7,000 youth from cocoa-growing communities, mainly women.
Currently, about 30,000 youth have been engaged across Ghana’s seven cocoa-producing regions, up from 20,000 the previous season.
With beneficiary farmers already testifying to gains from hand-pollination, it is expected that the technique will be fully embraced by all leading to sustainable jobs for the trained pollinators, contributing to poverty alleviation.
A 43-year-old farmer from Yawsae in the Bono Region, Ishmael Kyere Aboagye, recently told the B&FT that he used to harvest about 15 (64kg) bags, but that increased to 27 bags in the season gone by thanks to the PEP. He expressed optimism of harvesting about 40 bags in the coming season.
A cardinal objective of the hand pollination intervention coupled with others under COCOBOD’s Productivity Enhancement Programmes is to significantly increase cocoa yields.
With artificial pollination, each cocoa tree is expected to produce a minimum of 50 pods per season, which translates to more beans for the farmer, a marked improvement over pre-hand pollination years.
A COCOBOD Extension Coordinator in charge of the Berekum Cocoa District, Emmanuel Fosu Nkueh, said statistics indicate that farmers previously harvested an average 3-5 bags per acre. He reported, however, that hand-pollinated farms are now producing between 25-30 bags per acre.
This translates to more revenue accruing to farmers for the same farm size.
Ghana was reported to have seen an alarming 60% decrease in its primary rainforest resource, in 2018 alone.
The report identified illegal small scale mining (galamsey) as the major cause of deforestation. However, clearing forest lands for cocoa farming was also mentioned as a leading contributor to forest degradation.
Now aside from creating jobs and increasing yield and wealth for cocoa farmers, the hand pollination intervention effectively applies the breaks on the cocoa sector’s contribution to environmental degradation.
With education intensified it is hoped that farmers will widely adopt the productivity enhancement interventions, including hand pollination, to earn more with existing farms and also contribute profitably to afforestation by growing more forest trees on farms.