cocoa farmer and the impact of COVID-19
2019/20

The journey to become a cocoa farmer and the impact of COVID-19

Story
In late 2019, we followed Deborah Osei Mensah as she traveled to Ecuador to learn different farming techniques and her vision for a rehabilitated, diverse and professionally run cocoa farm. We caught up with Deborah to hear more about her story to become a farmer and how COVID-19 has impacted her.

Deborah is not your typical cocoa farmer. She’s 29, university educated, single and with a voracious appetite to transform cocoa farming in Ghana, but she wasn’t always proud to be a farmer.

"Farming used to be very tough and unrewarding. I day-dreamed of becoming a nurse. None of my siblings chose to become a farmer. "

When Deborah got admission to Senior High School, her dream to become a nurse changed. "When I went to Senior High School and started attending Science class, I saw so many students, most of whom looked like they were from affluent homes. I felt I didn’t belong there. When I started Agriculture class, it was a small class - only 22 students, mainly with children of cocoa farmers, I was more comfortable with my own kind."

An interest in sustainable farming 

When she graduated in 2014 with a degree in Forest Resource Technology, she still wasn’t sure what she was going to do with her life, but farming was definitely not on the agenda. 

Deborah Osei Mensah, Cocoa farmer in Ghana
That is until, one fateful day, whilst I was doing national service after my graduation, I got to know about a Fairtrade Cooperative - a farmers’ group. It was at the Annual General Meeting of the cooperative that I saw a different side to farming. Farmers were the Members of the Board, and they were running the whole show, and that got me very curious.
Deborah Osei Mensah, Cocoa farmer

"On enquiry, I learnt about Fairtrade certification, and other steps they take to make sure their work was more sustainable. For the first time, I gained confidence that I could farm and make something out of my life."

"Growing up, when people asked us in school what jobs our parents did, we lied. We were too embarrassed to tell them we were farmers, but these farmers were so proud to be called cocoa farmers. Yet, some of the farmers at this meeting had just one or two acres. My father has massive cocoa farms and yet we were ashamed to be called farmers. Meeting the cooperative totally changed my perspective. There was a job opportunity that came up at the cooperative, and after my second attempt, I got the job and still work there today. I am a Monitoring and Evaluation Officer and lead trainer with the Asunafo North Municipal Cooperative Cocoa Farmers and Marketing Union."

Today, all my siblings who wanted nothing to do with farming, want to get into farming because they’ve seen me succeed.

"I have traveled to Ecuador, Ivory Coast, and Kenya because of farming. I was just about to go to Ireland for two weeks when the pandemic hit."

Impacts of COVID-19

For a young, energetic woman who spends her days monitoring and training farmers, working on her own 7.2 acre farm or making soap for sale, Deborah is not used to idleness, and she admits she’s not handling the COVID-19 pandemic too well. "I feel lonely. Travel makes me happy. Going to the villages to interact with the farmers really brings me joy but as a single woman, living alone, away from my family, I try to study online but the cost of the internet is very expensive. I can’t spend all my earnings on the internet.

I am single but I am financially responsible for my parents, some of my siblings’ children and even some of the farmers I work with. Now that no one is working, their demand is even more. Some farmers are not even going to their farms. People are afraid."

 

Cocoa farmer Ghana
Deborah working on her 7.2 acre cocoa farm
We hope that cocoa buyers and other chocolate industries that support Ghanaian farmers will maintain business as usual. The income from cocoa buying helps us in the community too - we’re able to buy Veronica buckets for hand washing and other supplies to help farmers to go through this season. We’ve also built a 3 classroom block in our community.
Cocoa farmers preparing soap - Covid-19
Community soap making

In spite of the uncertainty COVID-19 has brought, Deborah is seeing some positives about a few things:

"Apart from farming, I’m also a soapmaker and the demand for soap is very high now so that’s bringing me some good money. As a cooperative, we’ve also decided to use the Information Center’s broadcast systems in the communities to educate our farmers. We’ve also purchased a vehicle we’ll use to move from community to community to educate farmers against Child Labor."

 

To read more about our farm-level operations during the time of COVID-19, please see our Farm-level operations: supporting cocoa farmers at the time of COVID-19.

 

Taryn Ridley

Taryn Ridley

Working as External Affairs Manager in the Corporate Communications team of Barry Callebaut. Native Australian, but loves living in the land of the Toblerone. Passionate about a range of sports, nature and travelling.

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