How Two Ghanaian Firms Raised World’s Largest Plantain Nursery
Cocoa production in key regions in Ghana, especially the Western North Region, has declined to a historic low in recent years.
With about 70 percent of farms in the region estimated to be affected, cocoa production volumes have been adversely impacted, reducing average annual output from 350,000 metric tonnes to barely 150,000 metric tonnes.
The sector regulator, Cocobod, has attributed the situation mainly to massive devastation by the Cocoa Swollen Shoot Virus Disease (CSSVD).
According to a 2017 survey, some 315,000 hectares of cocoa farms have been rendered unproductive by the disease, which so far has no cure.
Cocoa rehabilitation programme
In October 2020, the government of Ghana in conjunction with Ghana Cocoa Board launched the National Cocoa Rehabilitation Programme.
The objective of the intervention is to cut down all CSSVD-infected and over-aged cocoa farms for replanting in a sustainable manner.
The AfDB-funded initiative requires that millions of permanent shade trees be planted alongside the cocoa seedlings.
However, it would take several years before these permanent shade trees will mature enough to serve their intended purpose of providing a canopy over the young cocoa trees.
To fill that shade gap, scientists identified plantain as the most suitable crop to provide temporary shade for the survival of cocoa seedlings.
Plantain is found to be fast-growing, able to retain soil moisture for the benefit of the cocoa seedlings and also provides food for the farmers within 9 months.
For the most effective outcome, not less than 1,100 plantain suckers would need to be planted per every hectare of the cocoa farm undergoing rehabilitation.
That translates to sourcing millions of plantain suckers for the rehabilitation gangs, in time for planting in the April-June planting window, depending on the onset of the rain.
For Cocobod, meeting this target was a near-impossible task, especially relying on traditional propagation methods.
A collaborative partnership by two indigenous Ghanaian agriculture supply chain management firms, Afarinick Company Limited and Kumad Global Impact Limited, birthed a homegrown and world-first solution.
Joe Forson is Chief Executive Officer of Afarinick Company Limited, one of the project partners and shares their motivation for the bold venture.
“We knew COCOBOD was in the process of rehabilitating roughly 136,000 hectares of diseased cocoa farms and will need plantain suckers for the project,” he explained.
Forson added, “So we approached COCOBOD, and told them that we have the technology and the resources to be able to deliver the plantain suckers that will be used to support the Cocoa Rehabilitation Programme.”
117 million plantain seedlings
The Kumasi-based firms successfully pooled years of experience, human resources, and technical know-how to deliver arguably the world’s largest plantain seedling nursery here in Ghana.
The site covers an estimated area of 400 hectares at Suaman-Dadieso, in the Western North Region, at the very heart of Cocobod’s cocoa rehabilitation campaign.
With their state-of-art propagation and bud manipulation technology, they are able to multiply a single plantain sucker to about 120 seedlings.
By the close of the year 2023, the project is expected to have delivered its target of 117 million plantain seedlings.
In the meantime, managers of the plantain nursery are optimistic about delivering an initial 35 million seedlings by September this year.
Jobs and wealth creation
In less than 6 months of operation, the Afarinick-Kumad plantain nursery project has created direct employment for about 900 people, 65% of whom are female.
Dozens of others have been engaged through supply contracts providing plantain suckers, wood, sawdust, hydrological and construction services, among others.
Tricycle-taxi operators locally referred to as Pragya, as well as food and drinking water vendors, have not been left out.
By the close of the first phase of the project this year, management is hopeful to have recruited a total workforce of 2000, a figure it hopes to double by next year.
More than half of the staff have been adequately trained, free of charge, by technical experts to undertake the complex scientific technique of bud manipulation.
This is the process by which a single plantain sucker is engineered to produce a minimum of 25 and a maximum of 150 seedlings.
“I have mastered the multiplication process. So after this project, I am definitely going to apply the knowledge on my own farm to produce enough planting material and also sell the surplus,” Gladys Kyei, a cocoa farmer and project worker, testified.
She underscored that aside from the technology transfer that she and her colleagues have benefited from, the project has come in handy to help make ends meet through the weekly wages they earn.
Beyond producing millions of plantain seedlings to boost the revitalisation of the country’s all-important cocoa sector, the project is contributing immensely to achieving the national financial inclusion target.
The about 900 direct employees on the project, most of whom have never had access to banking services, have been successfully onboarded through local banks for payroll purposes.
They comprise mainly farmers, farmhands, and some unskilled youth from the project catchment area.
Because cocoa is the mainstay of the Western North Region, the devastation to the farms by the CSSVD almost completely eroded all economic activities here, including the production of food crops.
But thanks to this unprecedented plantain nursery project and other Cocobod-backed activities, like the cutting of CSSVD-infested trees, land preparation and farm maintenance, life here is fast returning to normalcy.
People who migrated to other parts of the country in search of greener pasture are returning in droves to cash in on emerging opportunities and also monitor activities on their rejuvenating farms.
As part of the contract for having their swollen-shoot-infested farms cut down for rehabilitation, farmers were handed a monetary compensation package of GHC1000 per hectare.
In addition to that, cocoa farmers reserve the right to harvest the thousands of plantains cultivated on their farms to raise extra income.
The plantain, which will be ready for harvesting between eight and nine months, is expected to improve food security in the region and the country in general.
With over 100 million plantains to be planted within the next couple of months, it may not be far-fetched for entrepreneurs to prepare in advance for post-harvest business opportunities, including processing and marketing.
Cocobod hails initiative
On his recent familiarisation tour of the Afarinick-Kumad Plantain Seedling Nursery site, the Chief Executive of Cocobod, Joseph Boahen Aidoo, commended the Ghanaian investors saying, “This is very amazing. I haven’t seen any nursery of this magnitude.”
Aidoo was impressed with the propagation techniques deployed to produce high-quality disease-free plantain seedlings for the cocoa rehabilitation programme.
“We realised that when we move plantain suckers, which are very key for the ongoing national cocoa rehabilitation programme, from old farms to new farms we tend to transfer pests. We transfer a lot of diseases,” he regretted.
The Cocobod boss added, “We have visited a lot of farms and the farmers are happy because they get a lot of benefits from the plantain.”
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