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Sustainable Tree Crops Program Boosts Africa's Cocoa Crop

This week’s feature series is on the effect of agriculture on Africa’s economies. Tonight’s topic: cocoa production. The Sustainable Tree Crops Program (STCP) works to improve cocoa production and distribution for small-scale farmers in West Africa. The five-year-old program is a public-private partnership.

Stephan Weise is its regional manager, based in the Ghanaian capital, Accra. He told VOA English to Africa Service reporter Cole Mallard the program has been effective: “We’ve trained farmers in production practices, and yields have increased between 15 and 40 percent. At the same time 10 to 20 percent less pesticides are used in the areas where farmers actually use pesticides. Collective marketing has increased the prices for farmers by five to 15 percent. So if you take farmers in certain countries like Cameroon or Cotes D’Ivoire, where farmers have been trained in better production practices [and]…are marketing collectively, you’re getting greater income for these farmers between 25 and 55 percent.”

Weise says small-scale farmers face obstacles such as limited access to high cost production technology, limited access to credit, and poor marketing.

He says the STCP helps them overcome these problems by using a method known as “discovery learning, which empowers the farmers to make their own decisions, so it’s not the ‘top down’ approach where we tell the farmers what they have to do…but it’s where the farmers themselves learn to observe and make the decisions….”

Weise says this way the farmer gains greater production knowledge for more effective asset management. He says the next step is for the farmer to use improved fertilizer and germ plasms.

Weise also says diversifying crops helps create alternative income sources. He says this approach also makes it easier to get credit for agricultural investment from national and international institutions.

As for marketing, he says, “Collective sales are an important component which leads to organizing the farmers into associations or cooperatives which allow them to negotiate prices much better with the buyers.” He says farmers also have better access to pricing and product quality information.

Weise says generally speaking, cocoa farmers are older and so are the trees on the farms. He says STCP encourages investing in new trees and improved varieties. Weise says normally it’s the head of the household who owns and manages tree crop assets but that younger family members certainly participate in the work and benefit from income generated at the household level. Weise says when one looks at data and statistics on cocoa farming and compares it to other crop raising data, “it may look as if the cocoa farmer is always old, but [the data indicates that] this has been the case for the last 30, 40, 50 years, so cocoa farmers have always been old.” (English to Africa 10/27)

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