Thursday, 3 October 2013

Cocoa farmers' own priorities

Our research subject was to study the constraints for replanting aged cocoa farms with hybrid cocoa varieties but we asked questions to capture wide range of possible constraints as well as possible alternatives available to the farmers. Some of questions tried to see if farmers viewed a better farm maintenance as an alternative to replanting and as a means to increasing yields and incomes. 

Most of surveyed cocoa farmers (73%) are not interested in major overhaul of their cocoa farms such as cutting old but still bearing cocoa trees and replanting with new trees. They prefer to be able to start using fertilizer in existing farm and drive the plants for higher yields in this way. 

Graph 1: Farmers choices between increased inputs or replanting with hybrids

In above question, the answer option of replanting aged trees with hybrid varieties was still one of the two choices. In next 2 questions, farmers were fully free to select their own most important issues and concerns in their cocoa farming business. See what responses they gave: 

Graph 2: Farmers' preferred conversation topics 

Graph 3: Farmers' main worries

As you can see on these 2 graphs none of them seem to view replanting as one of their main issues/concerns. Affordability of inputs and disease management i.e. maintenance is the priority for most of the farmers. 

Why farmers prefer to ''try a better maintenance''?

1. Own observations. They are well aware of direct impact of inadequate maintenance (lack of fertilizer usage, inadequate or late spraying) on their yields. See the graph below:

Graph 4: Farmers' assessment of loss in cocoa yields 
due to diseases

2. Trained awareness. Almost all of our 90 surveyed farmers have received various training through extension officers. They have been ''sensitized'' on the relationship between yield and spraying/fertilization/pruning

3. Borrowed inputs. Almost all licensed cocoa buying companies tried and continue to offer fertilizers to their supplier farmers and later deduct the cost of fertilizers from purchased cocoa value. Such interventions show to engaged as well as not engaged but nearby living farmers the difference the fertilizer makes.

This particular post is about farmers' own priority formation not about what other stakeholders do or how to scale ''better maintenance''. These issues have been partially addressed in another post of this blog. 

Monday, 30 September 2013

Will Your Kids Continue Cocoa Farming?

There is a concern in confectionery industry that cocoa farming is losing its attractiveness among next generation. We also asked this question to our 90 surveyed farmers in 10 communities of Asamankese district in Eastern Ghana. Here is what we got in response:

But we asked one more question: What will happen to your cocoa farm in case your kids will not want to farm it? We asked this question to all 90 farmers. 98% of them responded that other farmers will buy or rent the cocoa farm, left by their kids, and those other farmers will continue cocoa farming.  The answer options also included ''it will be converted to other cash crop'' but none of 90 farmers selected this option. The graph below should suggest that surveyed cocoa farmers are, for the time being, confident that cocoa farming remains one of most sought agricultural activities in their communities among all available crop alternatives. 

Where does such a ''confidence'' come from? Next graph might give the answer to this question. 98% of surveyed farmers believe that cocoa beans prices will increase a bit every year over next 10 years. This itself comes from Ghana's government policy of enforcing stable price as well as various assistance programs such as mass spraying, free clearance and monetary compensation of swollen shoot infected trees and extension services and training funded by government as well as industry.

However recent suspension of free clearance and monetary compensation for infected trees and planned phasing out of the mass spray program may change farmers' attitudes. There are other factors too such as increased attractiveness of alternative existing or new cash crops. 

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Off-farm Income and Cocoa Farmers

During our randomized survey of 90 smallholder cocoa farmers in 10 communities of Asamankese district in Eastern Ghana, we found that 69% of them had off-farm income generating activities. Mostly they were trading food, some were tapping palm wine, some had chain-saws and were cutting trees for a fee. One couple worked at rubber plant. Almost none had any full-time ''salary'' job, however, such as teacher or nurse or civil servant.

Figure 1: Availability of Off-farm Income 

Immediate first reaction could be: is this a threat to cocoa supply chain? do farmers find off-farm income as alternative to cocoa farming? do farmers with off-farm income have less time and incentive to take care of their cocoa farms? 

Relationship between off-farm income 
and Cocoa yields

During data analysis in SPSS (statistical software), we found some counter-intuitive results: farmers with off-farm incomes, had higher mean cocoa productivity per 1ha of land. To avoid mistakes, we also checked if there were any ''hidden'' differences such as the mean size of cocoa farms between off-farm and no-off-farm income farmers because another data set from the same randomized survey suggested difference in mean yields depending on cocoa farm size. Yet, we saw that there was no significant difference in cocoa farm size (''extra'' income farmers had on average 2,86ha and no-off-farm income farmers had on average 3,14ha). 

Figure 2: Difference in Mean Cocoa Yields per 1ha between the farmers with and without off-farm income

Now, the next questions are: how come? do they spend some of off-farm income on cocoa farm maintenance? If they all say that they do not buy fertilizers, then, what do ''extra'' income farmers do to have higher yields? are there differences between different levels of off-farm income earners in terms of productivity?

Tests with and without outliers ( in the 2nd run we removed 5 cases with very high reported yields) showed  statistically significant differences in mean yields between 6 levels of off-farm income farmer groups: Farmers who had off-farm income level at 3001-4000 GHC/year had significantly higher yields. It is interesting to see how mean yields per 1ha change with income levels: 

1) farmers with no off-farm income yield a bit more than those with up 1000 GHC/year off-farm income
2) farmers with 1001-2000 GHC/years yield more than those with up to 1000 GHC/year
3) farmers with 2001-3000 GHC/year yield less than farmers with 1001-2000 GHC/year
4) farmers with 3001-4000 GHC/year yield more (and most than any other group) than farmers with 2001-3000 GHC/year
5) for next 2 groups average yields are declining

Figure 3: Differences in mean cocoa yields per 1ha among different off-farm income level groups

How could these differences be explained? 

Do those farmers who have no off-farm income, i.e. no off-farm distractions, yield more than those, with low off-farm income, because they do not have to go to markets, stay mostly at home and have more time to take care of their farm? And those who have low off-farm income, yield less cocoa because they earn least from off-farm activities while still had to be away, meaning neither farm gets attention nor enough money is made to hire labour for farm maintenance? Then, why farmers with 2001-3000 GHC/year off-farm income yield less cocoa than those with 1001-2000 GHC/year off-farm income? Is this because 2001-3000 GHC is some kind of transition level from petty trade to more regular commerce and they need to commit more time and efforts to make that ''jump''? Then, this ''jump'' is probably difficult to make and they are overstretched? What about those who earn 3001-4000 GHC/year from off-farm activities and also happen to have highest mean yields of cocoa? Why their next level farmers' (4001-5000 GHC off-farm income) cocoa yields decline again compared to previous group and so does a ''5001 GHC and more'' group? Is 3001-4000 GHC off-farm income and balance of time and efforts, needed to make it, a kind of threshold above which, higher they earn, lower the urgency and motivation to take proper care of cocoa farm starts? These are just some of questions which we did not have time to check this time.

Coming back to general difference in mean yields between off-farm income earners and non-earners, where is the explanation for higher average yields of farmers with off-farm income source? Our research subject was constraints for replanting aged cocoa farms and we did not go deeper on this, especially during data gathering, we did not yet know that SPSS will show the difference in mean yields between farmers with and without off-farm income. However, we assume that the answer is in more paid labour usage by ''extra'' income farmers. These include accumulating efficiency gains from weeding, pruning, spraying and harvesting activities. They do not buy fertilizer because it requires lump sums at a go but they do use labour from their own communities whom they can pay gradually or later. 

What to expect?

Now whether off-farm activities are a threat to cocoa farming, the answer is not categorical. All the problems that cocoa farming faces, do not exist only for cocoa. If farmers do not have money to buy fertilizers, the same farmers are your customers if you set up a small kiosk and start trading cola and biscuits in the village. If the roads' condition affects cocoa input availability and cost, then the same bad roads damage your car if you decide to become a local taxi driver and significant part of profits made from carrying passengers, have to be spent on repairing and spare parts. These kind of ''shared obstacles'' cap the upside and limit the step size to jump from your current ''quality of life'' to another, radically different one.

Some of these opinions were expressed by one female cocoa farmer in Kwaboanta community. She was engaged in food trading and we asked her if she was given 5,000 GHC, where would she put them, into trading business or farming? Watch the video below to see her response and explanations.

Video 1: Cocoa farmer with off-farm trading activity speaks about her choices

Again, our research subject was not to deeply study relationships between off-farm income and cocoa farming. The only relationship which our survey suggests is in mean yields. We cannot claim anything more than this and more specific studies are needed for more accurate understanding. We did not have time to ask more questions on this to each of 90 farmer.

As another farmer said, his family will not use income from trading for fertilizer purchase because it will greatly reduce ''working capital'' of their trading business. This may suggest that they might be putting some of cocoa income into trading because ''turnover ratio'' in trading is higher. Watch this farmer's response in next video.

Video 2: Cocoa farmer explains why he cannot use off-farm income for farm

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Smallholder Cocoa Farmers and Competing Forces for ''Reinvestment''

Already from previous experience with Georgian micro-scale hazelnut and kiwifruit growers, I was, as many others, interested about the issue of what one of my former colleague called ''a missed reinvestment''. Why most of micro-scale farmers, despite knowing the benefits of fertilizers, do not or can not save some part of their crop income to buy and apply fertilizers and have more of the crop next year?

My personal opinion on this (so far! and it is evolving and may change) is that the gain from fertilizer application cannot, in absolute terms, change farmer's ''livelihood'' radically. In percentage wise it looks nice: 50% more cocoa or hazelnut, or even 100% more in some cases. However in absolute terms it does not look so radical: if you have 320kg of cocoa this year meaning say 1060 GHC ( 530US$) you may have in best case 640kg next year, meaning 2120 GHC ( 1060US$). Then there is ''time value'' factor which makes it look distant: you will have to spend money today and see benefit in 6-7 months. You already know that your life will not radically change if you earn 1060US$ a year instead of 530US$. Actually, the ''new'' net income is 1060US$ - cost of fertilizer - ''old'' expenses. In case of Ghanaian cocoa farmers, recommended dose of fertilizers per 1ha would cost, at 2013 prices, about 385 GHC. So net new profit would be: 2120 GHC - 385 GHC - pre-fertilizer expenses, i.e. 1735 GHC - pre-fertilizer expenses versus of 1060 GHC - pre-fertilizer expenses. This means net new benefit of 675 GHC/ha per year. 

But today, you have other, more urgent needs in the family and you have to address them. Your son is marrying and you cannot let yourself spoil his wedding day. Then there is a funeral of relative and you cannot go against the society and not to make contribution. One of our interviewed farmers said that he had to make almost 1000 GHC contribution to the funeral costs of his relative and he said that this tradition was wrong and outdated but when we asked him what happens if he gathers his neighbours and friends and suggests to change this tradition, he said ''oh no,no, I will be viewed as bad man''. In his case the ''costs'' which his society will impose on him, because of his revision of existing rules, are higher than benefit he may have from directing those funds to his farm.

In the mean time, farmers make ''strategic'' choices. It is not that they do not at all. For instance, spending significant part of cocoa income on education of kids is the proof of this. However, maybe with this investment into education, they hope that education can radically change at least their kids' life and they are willing to commit to it.

It is this different attitude towards ''invest in fertilizer or in education'' that makes me (so far) think that perception about how radical is the outcome in each options that makes them to choose.

The rest you can watch and hear yourself in following videos. Farmers were asked about why they cannot/do not reinvest into fertilizers and they answered sincerely where their priorities were.

Video 1: You have 10 000 GHC from cocoa sales, 
what are the reasons 
why you never used some of that money to buy fertilizers

Video 2: If you won 10 000 GHC in lottery 
how would you spend them?

Cocoa farming and other cash crops

Which other cash crops farmers grow or think about?

80% of our randomly surveyed 90 cocoa farmers in 10 communities of Asamankese district of eastern Ghana grow at least one other cash crop.

Mostly they grow oil palm, some grow orange, some others grow vegetables such as pepper, and only one in 90 said that he recently planted rubber. One more farmer said he grows coconuts. There were farmers who grow several of these crops together.

In our questionnaire, we had these questions to see if the reason why they did not replant aged cocoa farms with new cocoa plants was their preference to other crops. Although, this was not our main research problem we still were very curious and asked ''off-survey'' questions to some of them and also visited nearby rubber plantation and the company which manages the rubber estate.

Farmers still believe in cocoa as being their main crop but this confidence seems to largely be dependent on special attention which cocoa industry is receiving from the Government of Ghana and from global chocolate industry. Sometimes, while talking with farmers on this issue you get the feeling that it's on the life support and you ask what would happen if government and industry were to stop all those programs such as extension services, training, research, breeding and seed production units, subsidized spraying and fertilizer schemes etc. In each district of Ghana, there is local branch of Cocobod with office, staff and vehicles. Farmers view it as a strong signal and they think that this support will never stop.

On the other hand, being constantly on life-support makes them to expect more and more. In parallel, they say that other cash crop interest groups also provide some support to ''their'' farmers such as equipment to extract oil from oil palm, outgrowing schemes for planting rubber etc. 

The video below shows how cocoa farmer mentions these moments and expects something to be responded by his stakeholders [cocoa] side:

However, the same farmer also explained why he is not so attracted to alternative cash crops. Main reason is lack of confidence in stability of output markets especially in ''new'' crops. He gives example of sunflowers. There was a time when sunflower growing was extensively marketed to growers and many of them planted but there were not enough buyers or price was not sufficient and farmers lost confidence in sunflower. Watch the next video:

Monday, 26 August 2013

Discussing Old and New Cocoa Fermentation Methods with Farmers

What does science says?

Pods should be broken within 2-3 days after harvest. Germinated, black and diseased beans or pieces of husk and placenta fragments must be removed from the scooped beans. The beans are embedded in sweet, white mucilaginous pulp, which serves as a substrate for fermentation (Picture 1).

Picture 1: broken pod with sugary pulp
Fermentation begins the same day the pods are broken. Raw cocoa has astringent flavour and fermentation should develop chocolate precursors in the beans. The bean itself does not undergo fermentation but the pulp surrounding it. The pulp in undamaged pod is microbially sterile but during breaking, it gets contaminated with microorganisms from pod surface, knife and workers’ hands. Micro-organisms involved are yeasts, lactic acid bacteria and acetobacter. Fermentation occurs in two stages:
Stage 1 (Anaerobic): Occurs within first two days when the pulp does not allow air circulation. Yeast and lactic acid bacteria fermentation begins. Yeast fermentation transforms sugar into alcohol resulting in an increase in temperature. The increase in temperature, in turn, favours growth of lactic acid bacteria which then produce lactic acid. The pulp then breaks down, drains away and air penetrates the beans.

Stage 2 (Aerobic): Occurs from day three and aeration allows growth of acetobacter which transforms alcohol to acetic acid. Temperature increases up to 50°C. Acetic acid penetrates into the beans causing formation of chocolate flavour precursors. At the end the temperature reduces and if prolonged putrefaction bacteria will grow and cause off-flavours and over-fermentation.

What do farmers say?
I had the chance to interview about 40 farmers in two communities of Asamankese district in Eastern Ghana in August 2013. This was a focus group type of interview. Most of them retain pods for 1-4 days. 1 day for the pods cut on last day of harvesting and 4 days for the pods cut during 1st day of harvesting. We are talking about farmers who have 3-4 acres of cocoa farm and need couple of days to cut and collect pods in one or several points for further fermentation.
Most farmers in Ghana, except few hundreds out of almost 1 million, do fermentation in heaps which is fine as long as heap height is not too much and at least 2-3 mixing is done over 6 day fermentation period. Here, farmers and science divide: height of heaps is too high between 1m and almost 1.6m and most farmers mix cocoa beans only once and few do twice.
Why is that a problem? Good quality and uniform fermentation occurs in top 10cm of heap because temperature in this layer is also highest and most even in the heap and when heap height is 100cm, it needs to be mixed at least 3 times over 6 day period. Otherwise there will be too many purple colour beans and chocolate flavour precursors will not develop sufficiently.
In next 4 videos, you can see real field farmers talking about their own fermentation operations. 

Video 1: Farmers share with their 
cocoa pod harvesting experiences

Video 2: Farmers describe their 
pod breaking experience

Video 3: Farmers share with their 
current fermentation method

As we can see from 3rd video, farmers make one heap per 1 acre and some make one heap per 2-3 acres and as they have shown, heap height is very high which should not be ending with desired high quality fermentation.

The main reason why they make less number of heaps is related to labour cost at heap making stage as well as heap mixing stage. More heaps need more labour and more payments to workers. One solution to improve fermentation efficiency and ensure quality cocoa beans is tray fermentation method which by design guarantees that each fermentation process will occur in 10cm high trays and also by its design ensures that it suits farmers interests since NO mixing is needed during tray fermentation at all during 6 days. It will save mixing costs as well as costs of banana and plantain leaves.

On next video, we can see farmers reactions on tray method. They quickly figured out themselves advantages of new method.

Video 4: Farmers provide their 
opinions about tray fermentation method

Tray as well as Box fermentation methods were developed by Cocoa Research Insitute of Ghana many decades ago. At CRIG there is a dedicated facility which is using box and tray fermentation methods. We have been guided by Dr. Asare who explained us how all that was happening. See next videos.

CRIG fermentation tour part 1

CRIG fermentation tour part 2

CRIG fermentation tour part 3

CRIG fermentation tour part 4

CRIG fermentation tour part 5

Case Study: CSSVD Dead Cocoa Trees Replanting and Farmer

Dead Cocoa Trees

During the survey of 90 cocoa farmers in Asamankese district of Eastern Ghana, we learned that every farmer has some dead cocoa trees in his/her farm. On average number of reported dead trees were 300, ranging from couple of dozen up to 3600 trees. 

If we assume that each of 800 000 or so cocoa farmer in Ghana has on average 300 dead trees, it means 240 000 000 dead cocoa trees in total, which do not produce. If we convert these trees into hectares, assuming 1100 trees per 1ha, we will get abt. 218 000 hectares being unproductive and wasted. If we multiply the number of hectares by average productivity of 470kg/ha we will see that abt. 102 000 tons are not being produced for this reason only in Ghana alone. 

Who is doing what?

Cocoa farmers themselves said that they are cutting dead trees and replanting with new plant material but not everyone said so. We noticed that farmers who have more dead trees are more likely to be stuck in indecision due to various reasons such as: ''I have more than 1000 dead trees and wild vegetation has covered them and I need to pay a lot to labour to clear weeds and bushes even before reaching dead trees and I do not have enough money to pay them''

On the other side, Ghana's government subsides CSSVD a dead tree cutting and replanting and provides monetary compensation to affected farmers. The compensation seems to be quite attractive: 553 GHC (276,5US$)  for each Swollen Shoot Affected one hectare and additional 1290 GHC (645US$) for each newly planted one hectare.

However, many farmers still do not actively seek this program and typical answer is: ''if i go there alone, I will not be given attention''. Then they give some examples how they themselves or their neighbours applied for this service but did not get the service. 

What did we do?

Because it was a great opportunity to check how these things work in reality, we decided to take one of the surveyed farmers and visit CSSVD local office and see and hear everything ourselves.

Following 7 videos show each step we had to take for this ''case study'': observing farmer's orchard, visiting office and talking to officers, hearing the story of the other side. It was particularly interesting to see discussion between CSSVD officers and the farmer about obstacles. 

We were told that currently CSSVD program is suspended but will probably renew later this year. We were also told that our particular farmer should visit another CSSVD branch where we had also gone. In the second office they told our farmer that CSSVD program was suspended and renewed in previous year as well. Such suspensions and renewals of course does not contribute to positive perception among farmers.

CSSVD and Cocoa Farmer: Part 1

CSSVD and Cocoa Farmer: Part 2

CSSVD and Cocoa Farmer: Part 3

CSSVD and Cocoa Farmer: Part 4

CSSVD and Cocoa Farmer: Part 5

CSSVD and Cocoa Farmer: Part 6

CSSVD and Cocoa Farmer: Part 7