Agriculture / Rainforest Alliance

How Farmer Field Schools change lives

Global demand for sustainable cocoa drives local transformation

In the second blog from our Ghana series Marcus Schaefer visits a Farmer Field School to talk with cocoa farmers about what working with the Rainforest Alliance has meant for them.

During 2012 the number of Rainforest Alliance Certified cocoa farms rose more than 300 percent to nearly 200,000. The strongest driver behind this development is the large chocolate companies’ commitment to source sustainable cocoa. Today corporations, public institutions, different UN-programs, national aid agencies and governments at origin collaborate in order to help farmers transform their land use practices to more sustainable methods.

One of the main reasons for the companies’ commitments is to secure future supply of cocoa. Global demand rises every year, while at the same time many farmers in Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana, who supply the majority of the world’s cocoa, see their yields and profitability decrease because of climate change and bad farming practices.

To reach out to hundreds and thousands farmers is a huge task. So the Rainforest Alliance has established Farmer Field Schools to help achieve lasting change by teaching farmers better farming practices that help them care for their workers, protect the environment and to deliver better yields and quality of cocoa on their farms.

When I visited a Farmer Field School in the village Eteso the topic for the day was child labour and how to take care of cocoa pods and beans after harvest.

Talking to the participants, it was clear everybody agreed that the project had brought great benefits and that a common problem was lack of knowledge. Asante Nkuah William explains that thanks to the Rainforest Alliance he has become a better cocoa farmer.

“The biggest difference for me is that I have tripled my yields. I have changed a lot of my practices. I prune the trees differently, I use fertilizers in the right way and I have stopped using the wrong kind of pesticides. Before the Rainforest Alliance I just bought what our local dealer told me to use, that was wrong.”

Asante has replaced the oldest and least productive cocoa trees on his farm with new ones. At the same time he has planted fast growing shade trees that will protect his new plot from the sun.

“When it is time to replace the cocoa trees I can also harvest the shade trees and sell them for timber, it will give me another source of income,” says Asante Nkuah William. “My life here is very good, my three children attend school and that is the most important thing. It is my insurance if the cocoa farm should fail in the future.”

Climate change is a big problem for the cocoa farmers and one important aspect of the Rainforest Alliance’s work is to help farmers adapt their farms to changing climate conditions. Agroforestry is promoted, where higher trees are planted in the cocoa farm in order to provide shade from the burning sun. The shade trees also help to reduce soil erosion, improve soil quality as well as binding more water, carbon and nitrogen into the soil. This in turn can reduce the need for fertilizers and also increase carbon stocks.

Teresa Baido explains that before joining the program she did not know how climate change affected her farm or how important the shade trees were for getting a larger harvest of better quality.

“Before the project, I didn’t know how to effectively apply fertilizers. Then I harvested some 7-8 bags from my farm, today I harvest 15 bags,” says Theresa Baido. “I have learnt how to use fertilizers in the most efficient way for nature and maintain a higher yield on my farm.”

Theresa has four girls and three boys. The oldest children have not attended school but instead helped her on the farm.

“Earlier the older children helped in the harvest opening the cocoa pods with machete. Now I know that it is dangerous for the children to do so,” says Teresa Baido. “My youngest children attend school and I’m happy for their sake. The school makes it possible for them to choose another profession if they want to.”

Next time Marcus explains the importance of shade and the implementation of agroforestry.

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