Q&As for 2022: Deborah Osei-Mensah, Fairtrade youth ambassador

Ms Osei-Mensah is also registered cocoa farmer, livelihood development officer of Ghana’s Asunafo North Farmers Union, and leader of the union’s Monitoring and Evaluation team

How has last year been for your sector?

The 2020/2021 crop year was fairly good in Ghana as the country achieved a record of production, including an increase in cocoa volumes. In fact, during this year Ghana saw its highest productivity in the past 10 years, producing a little above 1 million metric tonnes. This was due to vigorous pruning activities introduced by the Ghana Cocoa Board, artificial pollination and approved fertiliser application, and an increased number of Extension Officers to assist farmers during the season. My co-operative also supported this activity by engaging 155 youths in three months to prune two acres of cocoa farm for each registered member.

We also marked the introduction of Living Income differentials. During the season, the government increased the price of cocoa from Ghc 8,240 (£1,000) to Ghc 10,560 (£1,290)per tonne. This was as a result of the living income price of $400 per tonne which was demanded from companies that sourced cocoa from Ghana and Ivory Coast. This differential positively helped many farmers to support their farms and homes.

Last season my co-operative received a lot of funding from Fairtrade Africa as well as Covid-19 relief. We also participated in a Recover Africa project to support farmers whose businesses were affected during the heavy wave of the pandemic. About 700 women were supported in various forms of livelihood as well as 210 youth. This was to help them gain financial stability to support their family and their farms.

That said, despite these achievements, the 2020/2021 cocoa crop season has not been without its own problems. The heavy rainy season paved the way for an increase in pests such as fall armyworm and black pod disease. These increased the cost of production as many farmers had to engage in a lot of farm management activities to make sure they do not lose all their production and also get the best quality bean.

What are your hopes for the future?

We hope for more sustainable initiatives in the 2021/2022 cocoa season. The beginning of the season is seeing a very heavy climate impact which is drastically reducing the productivity of the major crop season (October, November and December). If better climate plans are not put in place, farmers will be worse off.

We need sustainable policy and enforcement mechanisms to protect our forests. Cocoa growing communities are mostly located in forested areas which are at risk of degradation. It is our hope that governments and lawmakers will make conscious efforts to make policies that safeguard our forests while protecting farmers’ livelihoods.

We also hope that international lawmakers will regulate and engage companies to act responsibly whether they are buying conventional or under ethical labels. We call on companies to buy more volumes under ethical labels, pay fairer prices to farmers, and support farmers’ projects and programs in mitigating climate impacts. Companies must also encourage and ensure that their farmers are adhering to good environmental practices. We hope farmers’ voices will be heard whenever world leaders are making policies about their wellbeing.