Productivity is commonly defined as a ratio between the output volume and the volume of inputs. In other words, it measures how efficiently production inputs, such as labour and capital, are being used is an economy to produce a given level of output. Usually, increase in productivity in very business translate into proportionate increase in profit.
Like any other business players, cocoa farmers always seek to increase productivity in order to boost their incomes. This has very necessary especially in a dispensation where farmers are increasingly losing farm acreages to as unfriendly weather conditions emanating from climate change, pests and diseases, indiscriminate sand winning and illegal mining among others.
It is against this backdrop that the Ghana Cocoa Board (COCOBOD), industry regulator, has initiated steps to boost cocoa productivity. To this end, COCOBOD has introduced productivity enhancement programmes (PEPs). The programmes include hand pollination, pruning, pilot irrigation and rehabilitation.
Introduction of hand pollination
COCOBOD started the nationwide hand pollination exercise in 2017 and it has continued till date. The objective of the programme is to increase the number of pods to a minimum of 50 per tree. The introduction of the artificial pollination exercise was stimulated by the dwindled population of insects that pollinate cocoa.
The excessive use of weedicides and other agrochemicals as well as indiscriminate bush burning have culminated to wipe away significant number of the insects called midges. According to COCOBOD, the extinction of the midges has accounted for an average of 10-20 percent of cocoa flowers being pollinated while about 80-90 percent of the flowers are aborted, hence nationwide introduction of the hand pollination exercise.
Cocoa farms that are selected for the exercise are mostly hybrids farms that are between 8-20 years. Other criteria include farms free from the cocoa swollen shoot virus (CSSVD), pruned and accessible. Farmers who seek to enjoy this productivity enhancement programme must be willing to control pests and diseases and apply fertilizer as well. Cocoa hand pollination is preceded by pruning.
Impact of hand pollination
Since the introduction of the intervention, beneficiary farmers have seen significant increase in productivity, which has eventually boosted their incomes. The B&FT has learnt that the COCOBOD strategically increase the acreage of hand pollinated farms year-on-year-on. The expansion of the exercise is inspired by the success stories of beneficiary farmers.
Statistics from COCOBOD indicated that in 2018/2019 season for instance, a total of 16,370.40 acres in the Bono, Bono East and Ahafo Regions were hand pollinated. The human-induced cross-fertilisation exercise covered about 17,382 individual farmers in eight Cocoa Districts- Goaso, Dormaa, Bechem, Berekum, Sankore, Techiman, Nkrantwanta, and Dadiesoaba. The farmers’ yield increased considerably from 3-4 bags (64kg) per acre to averagely 15-20 bags.
Mr. Charles Gyamfi, overall 2019 National Best Farmer who was also adjudged 2018 National Best Cocoa Farmer in an interview with the B&FT said: “Hand pollination is of the best interventions to be introduced to farmers. With this, there’s no need for us to expand our farmers to increase output.”
The 2019 Best Regional (Ahafo, Bono and Bono East) Cocoa Farmer, Philip Appiah Boakye, at Akrodie revealed that his parcel of farm used to produce between 26-28 bags a season, but after hand pollination, output has multiplied to over 100 bags, adding “I have personally engaged some of the pollinators to complement the work of those recruited by COCOBOD. I want the exercise to cover large area to boost my harvest. I have realized that it will be more productive and businesswise to hand pollinate my existing farms rather than to expand the farms. In the 2019/2020 season I funded the pollination of over 20 acres.”
The cocoa hand pollination is not only beneficial to the farmers but it has also created employment for others. In the 2018/2019 season, COCOBOD recruited and trained about 20,000 youth (mostly women) as pollinators. It increased the number by 50 percent to 30,000 in the 2019/2020 season.
A 32-year-old, Damatu Mohammed is a COCOBOD trained pollinator at Akrodie near Goaso in the Ahafo Region. Interacting with B&FT Ms. Mohammed disclosed that she used to sell secondhand bedspreads at Goaso, earning an average profit of about GH¢150 monthly, indicating that the money was woefully insufficient, thus plunging her into a pool of debt.
“Since joining the hand pollination team in 2017, my story has changed. The days of sleepless nights are over; I’m no more chased by my creditors. In the last three years, I confidently walk to the bank at the end of every month for my allowance which is far better than what I used to earn from the petty trading,” she said.
On her part, a 27-year-old, Patricia Yeboah, who also hails from Akrodie revealed that prior to her engagement in the hand pollination work, she was unemployed and had to rely on family and friends for survival.
She said: “The narrative has changed in the last three years; as we speak, I cater for myself; I’m also making little savings towards the establishment of a small enterprise in future to supplement the pollination work.”
The increasing negative impact of climate change on agriculture remains the major threat to cocoa hand pollination. Erratic rainfall pattern, extreme temperatures and excessive rainfall are inimical to the success of cocoa hand pollination.
COCOBOD Officer in charge of Sankore Cocoa District in the Ahafo Region, David Gyebi-Afriyie told B&FT that lack of rains during the pollination period or heavy downpours cause the young pods to drop prematurely. Likewise, when there is inadequate rain, the plants cannot bear flowers which are needed for the pollination exercise, he added.
Another challenge with the tendency to undermine sustainability of the hand pollination programme is inadequate personnel to cover more farms. Due the nature of the exercise where one has to transfer pollen from the stamen of one plant to the pistil of another, it requires persons with good eyesight. Most cocoa farmers are aged and suffer sight defects, thus their inability to perform hand pollination.
Most of the youth with good eyesight who have been trained for the specialized exercise also see it as temporary job. The B&FT has gathered that the chuck of hand pollinators might leave the job in search for better and secured employment opportunities. COCOBOD recruit hand pollinators as causal staff, hence their apprehension.
The 2018 National Best Cocoa Farmer, Mr. Gyamfi said hand pollination is labour intensive and therefore COCOBOD must endeavour to train more people in the exercise, but not necessarily to employ them, saying: “If there are already trained personnel in the system, individual farmers can engage such persons to pollinate more farms. This will go a long way to increase cocoa productivity and the general output in the country.”
As an antidote to the impact of climate change on the exercise, it is imperative for COCOBOD to expedite action on its irrigation system to sustain the pollination exercise. The Regional Manager of Cocoa Health Extension Division (CHED) of COCOBOD, in charge of Bono, Bono East and Ahafo Regions, Emmanuel Dede Anochi, recently announced that a pilot irrigation system is ongoing in the erstwhile Brong-Ahafo Region. According to him, the pilot exercise covers Techiman, Goaso, Sankore and Nkrankwanta, stating that it will be expanded to cover more farms.
I pray that all the interventions required to sustain and promote cocoa hand pollination such as expansion of irrigation system will not be a mirage. Amidst the dwindling cocoa farms cover in the country, it is imperative that all stakeholders will put their shoulders to the wheel and sustain interventions like hand pollination to accelerate productivity so as to sustain the country’s cocoa industry.
Patricia Yeboah performs hand pollination
Hand pollinated cocoa trees