Unveiling the 4Ps of Cocoa Production in Ghana
Cocoa, scientifically known as Theobroma cacao, is one of the most important cash crops in Ghana’s burgeoning economy. Cocoa has widely been described as the mainstay of Ghana’s economy.
For over a century now, cocoa has been the main contributor to Ghana’s gross foreign exchange reserves. In 2021 alone, the contribution of cocoa to Ghana’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in real terms was GHS3.1 billion ($533 Million). Currently, cocoa accounts for a significant 15% of Ghana’s GDP.
Even though the agricultural sector is the largest employer of the majority of Ghanaians, the cocoa subsector alone employs over one million farmers – directly benefiting many households.
One major attribute of Ghana’s cocoa sector is that it supports the livelihoods of millions in the commerce, services, and industrial sectors of the economy, thus making the cocoa value chain an important backbone of Ghana.
This makes cocoa an important generator of revenue for the nation. The overarching importance of cocoa to Ghana’s economy cannot, therefore, be overemphasised or underestimated in any way.
However, since the attainment of the highest-ever cocoa production in the country (1,047, 000 metric tonnes) in the 2020/2021 crop year, cocoa production has rather been bearish and sluggish, leading to simmering disquiet among not only cocoa farmers but also industry experts, players, watchers, connoisseurs, and government functionaries.
For two consecutive crop seasons, i.e., 2021/2022 and 2022/2023, Ghana failed to achieve 800,000 tonnes of cocoa production, and that is not only worrying but also scary, to say the least, especially for government and industry players, knowing very well that cocoa is Ghana and Ghana is cocoa. Declining cocoa bean stocks have been attributed to a myriad of factors that are very well-known.
First is the unbridled and unmitigated age-old challenge of the smuggling of the commodity to our neighbouring Cote d’Ivoire and Togo mostly via unapproved routes along the eastern and western corridors.
Another notable threat to increased cocoa production in this country is the very popular illegal small-scale mining (Galamsey) which continues to hang around the neck of the country like an albatross.
As we are all aware Galamsey is wreaking unimaginable havoc on Ghana’s cocoa landscapes. From Wassa Akropong in the Wassa Amenfi East District in the Western South Region to Akwatia in the Kwaebibirem District of the Eastern Region, the level of devastation of productive cocoa areas as a result of galamsey activities is a tearjerker.
What makes it even more painful and heart-wrenching is the fact that there appears to be absolutely no hope in sight in salvaging this galamsey canker as the nation appears impotent and powerless at the hands of galamseyers.
Hundreds of hectares of productive cocoa farms are razed daily by galamseyers much to the chagrin of all as law enforcement looks on unconcerned. Galamsey has consequentially contributed immensely to the unfortunate sharp decline in Ghana’s cocoa production as witnessed in recent times.
Then there is the twin challenge of the popular Cocoa Swollen Shoot and Virus disease (CSSVD) and moribund cocoa farms. CSSVD affects about 17% of Ghana’s total cocoa tree stock whilst 23% of the total tree stock are overaged, moribund and unproductive and needs massive rehabilitation.
What this means is that it is only 60% of the country’s total cocoa tree stock that is productive, 40% is technically redundant with minimal yield.
It is against this backdrop that Ghana Cocoa Board (COCOBOD) in 2017 introduced the novel Productivity Enhancement Programs (PEPs) which seek to restore declining cocoa yields and in effect ensure sustainable cocoa production.
At the core of the PEPs strategies are the 4Ps of cocoa production; Pruning, Pollination, Poultry Manure and Protection. COCOBOD is poised to normalize the annual production of one million metric tonnes of cocoa from the reliable 60% of the total tree stock which can be classified as productive.
It is in line with this vision of attaining one million metric tonnes of cocoa and beyond per annum that COCOBOD has introduced the 4Ps of cocoa production to cocoa farmers through Community Extension Agents (CEAs).
Today, COCOBOD has successfully mainstreamed these 4Ps of cocoa production into the Good Agronomic Practices (GAPs) for adoption by cocoa farmers. COCOBOD is working together with thousands of cocoa farming cooperatives and cocoa farmers across the country to achieve this objective.
So, what really are the 4Ps of cocoa production?
The first of the 4Ps of cocoa production is pruning. Pruning is the systematic removal of unwanted growth or parts of the cocoa plant. It is a good agronomic practice that is not only needed to optimize or shore up cocoa production but also to facilitate and ensure safer farm operations. Due to the strategic importance of pruning to cocoa farming, it has variously been described as the master key that is needed to ignite higher yields in cocoa production.
In 2018, COCOBOD for the first time recruited some energetic youth as casual labourers across all the seven cocoa growing regions and 70 districts to undertake what has come to be known as mass cocoa pruning. COCOBOD through the CEAs at the beginning of every year encourage cocoa farmers and cocoa farmer cooperatives to ensure every single productive cocoa farm is pruned between January to April.
As part of efforts to support the mass cocoa pruning agenda, COCOBOD in 2019 procured and distributed over 100,000 pieces of motorized pruners and slashers for the dual purposes of pruning and weeding cocoa farms just so the drudgery associated with cocoa pruning and weeding can be reduced to the barest minimum.
These machines were also introduced ostensibly to discourage the use of weedicides in cocoa farms and, in the process, ensure biodiversity protection and conservation. Every year COCOBOD provides fuel and engine oil to cocoa farmer cooperatives to power the motorized pruners and slashers.
Today, mass cocoa pruning is headlined by the cocoa farmers and cocoa farmer cooperatives themselves as they have come to realize the significant difference pruning makes in their productive cocoa farms. Pruning, basically, involves the removal of unwanted growths like basal chupons, lateral, interlocking, drooping, diseased and dead branches.
During pruning, epiphytes like mistletoes which feed off cocoa trees are removed. This automatically ensures the reduction of insect pest populations on the farm by not less than 50% as the farm becomes airy with sun rays being able to penetrate through the canopy to the farm floor.
After the mass cocoa pruning exercise, farmers are given flower inducers and liquid fertilizers to apply on their pruned productive cocoa farms. These flower inducers and liquid fertilizers trigger the formation and retention of flowers.
It is interesting to note that pruning is biblical “He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit, he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful” John 15:2 (RSV). Mass Pruning sets the stage for the next P of the 4Ps which is Pollination.
Pollination is the transfer of pollen grains from the anther of a flower to the stigma of another flower. This leads to fertilization and thereby fruit formation (In this case cherelles which grow into pods).
It is common knowledge that the natural agents of pollination are insects (mainly midges in cocoa) air, etc. Unfortunately, natural pollination does not produce the needed pod load per tree which can lead to increased cocoa production.
It is against this backdrop that COCOBOD in 2017 introduced what is known as artificial hand pollination where forceps were given to human beings to artificially transfer pollen grains from the anther of flowers from one tree to the stigma of flowers of another tree.
Here again, some youths were recruited and trained to artificially pollinate flowers on cocoa trees in all productive cocoa farms across the country. Today, due to the increased production levels and the huge financial benefits associated with artificial hand pollination, the exercise is now owned by cocoa farmers and cocoa farmer cooperatives themselves.
Cocoa farmers now do artificial hand pollination themselves by employing COCOBOD-trained pollinators who pollinate their cocoa farms for them at a fee. Every year COCOBOD supports cooperatives with thousands of forceps to facilitate artificial hand pollination.
After pollination, there is the need to fertilize the soil to give the pollinated trees adequate nutrition to support the high pod load on the trees. This is exactly where poultry manure comes in as the 3rd of the 4Ps of cocoa production.
Cocoa farmers in Ghana have since their introduction to the use of inorganic fertilizers on cocoa farms some years ago become so accustomed to the use of inorganic fertilizer to fix low soil nutrients to the extent that it is not easy to convince these farmers to switch to other sources of fertilization of their cocoa farms.
The over-reliance on the application of inorganic fertilizer on cocoa farms has invariably created the problem of salty and acidic soils. To this end, often when inorganic fertilizers are applied, they are only available in the soil but not available to root hairs for the uptake of the fertilizer by the roots of the cocoa plants.
Most of these cocoa soils have not only lost vital nutrients over the years through mineral mining in the harvesting of cocoa pods but most of these soils are degraded.
Poultry manure being organic comes in handy to aid the regeneration of degraded soils. Poultry manure is soil-friendly and can easily be utilized by the cocoa plant for increased production. This coupled with its low cost as compared to inorganic fertilizers as well as its ready availability on the local market makes it the best alternative to cocoa farmers.
COCOBOD, therefore, recommends that after pruning and artificial hand pollination, the next most important thing that cocoa farmers ought to do is to apply poultry manure to their cocoa to restore lost nutrients and increase crop nutrition to shore up cocoa production in the country.
After pruning, artificial hand pollination and the application of poultry manure (crop nutrition) we are certain that cocoa production in our productive cocoa farms can more than double. When pod load increases the next important step to take is to ensure the protection of the pods from pests like insects and fungus. Capsid, stink/shield bug infestations and black pod disease alone can whittle down the gains made by 25%.
COCOBOD has therefore expanded the scope of the cocoa mass spraying exercise by making insecticides and fungicides readily available at the various gang areas for crop protection to protect the pods obtained. It is envisaged that the adoption and implementation of the 4Ps of cocoa production in Ghana would invariably lead to increased production towards the achievement of one million metric tonnes of cocoa and beyond.
Yes, we can do it! It is possible!!!
May God bless us all, our cocoa industry and our homeland Ghana.