Cross-sectoral lessons on sustainability from Ghana's cocoa farms

Stefan Ewers, deputy director of CARE International Germany, helps a cocoa farmer dry the last of this season's harvest in the cocoa-producing village of Tweapease in Ghana's central region. Photo by: Christin Roby / Devex

TWEAPEASE, Ghana — If aid workers, government officials and members of the private sector were to all visit an aid project, what different lessons might they come away with?

On a recent visit to Ghana, Devex had the opportunity to find out. The Germany-based Exposure and Dialogue Programme and CARE International Ghana took a group of senior-level government officials, development workers and private sector representatives to visit to the cocoa fields of central Ghana. The program was meant to provide “a personal, hands-on experience with people on the ground of the developing world,” said Jörg Hilgers, EDP program coordinator specializing in Africa.

In groups of two, 13 German visitors and Devex split up and spent 72 hours living with a local facilitator and a host family in some of the most remote cocoa areas near Kumasi, Ghana. Following their overnight field visit, participants returned for a two-day discussion.

German consumers are increasingly interested in buying certified products from sustainable farming, so the group visit focused on wealth and social justice in the Ghana cocoa sector, Hilgers said. “Cocoa is attracting a lot of interest because the northern hemisphere has interest in high-quality chocolate and we know that a certain amount of cocoa is needed to feed the world’s intake of chocolate,” he said.

After their visits with communities, participants joined the newly appointed CEO of the Ghana Cocoa Board — Joseph Boahen Aidoo — high-level government officials, development workers and other cocoa sector stakeholders in Accra to discuss what they found.

Here are the lessons and ideas that visitors and locals took away from the exchange.

Emmanuel Appiah, vice president Tweapease Community Development Committee

Appiah is a cocoa farmer in the village of Tweapease and vice president of the Community Development Committee, a council started with the help of the CARE Ghana Cocoa Life project.

We are learning how to better sustain our community during the off-peak cocoa season. Cocoa farming, for many of us, is our first chance at having a business, so we need to make smarter decisions with the money we earn from our harvests.

We are now thinking of starting a cooperative vegetable farm. We will have another meeting to discuss it further, but we are trying not to lose our people who prefer to go to the city and search for money.

Dr. Theophilus Nkansah, CARE Cocoa Life project manager, CARE International Ghana

With more than 20 years experience in community development and management, Nkansah led the Cocoa Life project, where he was responsible for programs that impacted more than 30,000 farmers in more than 400 communities.

I have been at the forefront of designing this [Cocoa Life] program and doing the implementation. There are some aspects that the visitors from EDP have brought, which on our side from the familiarity of things you see everyday, might escape your attention. 

From our visitors, I have learned that we need to intensify our collaborations with [certain] institutions and expand the scope of our partnerships. For the visitors to share with the NGOs, business stakeholders, government stakeholders in the sector what they’ve learned and seen in the field is a great opportunity for learning, networking, and really strategizing on how to work together as a team, to collaborate more effectively to rollout programs that will improve the livelihoods of the farmers.

Karen Pfundt, head of policy/speech writing, German Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development

A former radio journalist and current speechwriter for the German Development Ministry, Pfundt joined the EDP program to expand her understanding of the role of governments in development aid projects.

One thing I’ve learned from this cultural immersion and exposure experience is that it’s one thing to talk in an abstract way about value chains, or improving livelihoods of people, or implementing standards. It’s another to really look at what these issues mean and how broad the approach has to be to really make a change. This really struck me.

I’ve learned lots of the obstacles to development, but also the keys that can change things to empower people. My lesson learned is that it’s very important to not think it takes one key to change things but to have a holistic approach, to see everything together.

You can’t improve the lives of cocoa farmers without improving their schools, without giving them access to finance, without connecting them to the world, and to all the resources we have now. It’s very important for me, as a development worker, to identify who is responsible for doing what, and who can do what.

Christian Walter, consumer foods managing director, Buhler Group.

Walter has spent more than two decades working as an engineer and joined the EDP program on behalf of Buhler, a leader in cocoa processing equipment.

I realized that we are all far away from having the solution available [to many development issues], and I’m still not sure if we have the right sense of urgency. I’ve started a fight for attention, and I’ve already started to implement the first actions.

I have gone to my CEO, to my boss, who is a member of our board of directors, so he really can influence the business. We have decided to host an event in early May, during our biggest exhibition as a food production and processing company. There, our CEO will talk about cocoa and chocolate. We plan to invite the CEOs and owners of the top 20 in this field and we want to have a special afternoon with them to talk about what we all together can do. I’m initiating this call to action based on my recent experiences in Ghana. We really need to stand up and do something [to improve the cocoa value chain]; stop just talking and actually do, because this is the only way [to change the livelihoods of cocoa farmers].

I’m convinced with a little more [effort] we can have a big impact on these farmers. I believe it’s not only the money we need to free up to help these farmers but also to educate/train them and be more active in our role.

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Photo caption: This slide from the EDP “lessons learned” presentation to Ghana cocoa stakeholders illustrates the multidimensional approach EDP participants suggested is needed to improve the livelihoods of cocoa farmers.

Editor’s note: The Exposure and Dialogue Programme facilitated Devex's travel and logistics for this reporting. However, Devex maintains full editorial control of the content.

About the author

  • Christin Roby

    Christin Roby is the West Africa Correspondent for Devex. Based in Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire, she covers global development trends, health, technology, and policy. Before relocating to West Africa, Christin spent several years working in local newsrooms and earned her Master of Science in videography and global affairs reporting from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. Her informed insight into the region stems from her diverse coverage of more than a dozen African nations.