Part II: A Visit to Cocoa Farmers in Asarekwaa, Ghana

Chocolopolis / Thursday, August 8th, 2019

On my recent journey to Ghana, I had the privilege to visit a community of cocoa farmers in Ghana’s Central Region. In Part I of this post, I shared my first impressions of the day and our visit with the first cocoa farmer and his family.

After spending over an hour asking questions about cocoa farming of the first farmer, Mr. Razak, we headed back to the village to meet with the community leaders.

Back under the shelter of the community center, each of the leaders introduced themselves and explained their leadership roles. We heard from five different leaders including Akua Krampah, the head of the women’s group, Issah Mensah, the Secretary of the Farmer’s Group, Allah Hadji  Shiebu Adam, the Community Development Committee Chair, and Ibrahim Adam, the Village Chief. At the end of their presentation we asked questions, and when we asked what questions they had for us, they asked us if we’d brought them chocolate. Luckily, we had!

Being a neophyte at cocoa community visits, I was glad to have Kristy Leissle with me. The day before our visit we went shopping for gifts for the community. We brought rice and cooking oil for the farmers with whom we spoke, chocolate for the kids (or so we thought!) and Malta Guinness (a non-alcoholic, sweet energy drink that’s incredibly popular) for the leaders.

The chocolate we purchased was Ghana’s own Golden Tree Kingsbite Akuafo Bar. This chocolate is beloved by the Ghanaians, not least by the farmers since the lemon bar is a tribute to them. Here’s how Golden Tree describes this bar,

“This blend of milk chocolate flavoured with lemon is a tribute to the hard-working cocoa farmers in Ghana who produce the priceless beans that are the base ingredient for any good chocolate. “Akuafo” is an Akan word for “farmer”. Akuafo bar GoldenTree chocolate is therefore a dedication to farmers whose hard work and sweat sustain the Ghanaian economy.”

The leaders were very happy to have these chocolate bars, and you can see them holding the bars up in the photo at the top of this post.

It was their turn to gift us something, and they offered us coconuts to drink. I love drinking coconut water, and it doesn’t get much better than fresh-from-the-tree coconuts in Ghana.

Me, Kristy and the CARE team drinking coconut water.

As we were meeting with the farmers under the shelter of the community center, it began to rain hard. The drops pounded on the corrugated metal roof of the shelter with fierce intensity. We were told that rain is a blessing and that we had brought a blessing to the community. I don’t think there’s any gift better than that. The rain didn’t last long, and by the time we’d finished our gift exchange it had stopped.

Throughout our visit there were children standing at the fringes watching us. School let out for the day while we were meeting with the village leaders, so the number of children in school uniforms increased significantly while we were at the community center. Before heading to the next farmer’s home, I said to Kristy, “I want a picture with the kids.” She responded, “They’re all going to run into the photo,” to which I said, “I know, that’s what I want.”

So we motioned to the kids to come over, and, sure enough, those who were not too shy came running over to be in the group shot.

Me and Kristy with the kids.

What do you notice about this photo? The kids are holding their fingers in a “V”. I was surprised by this. Kristy and I weren’t holding our fingers in a “V”, so why were these kids doing it automatically when a camera appeared? Let me digress for a minute and share my theory on why they’re flashing a “V” in photos.

I will admit to watching a handful of Korean and Chinese TV shows on Netflix. One thing I’ve noticed is that whenever the main characters are shooting photos of themselves, they hold up their fingers in a “V”. I’m not sure why this is done, but I’m guessing it has some meaning or significance. I googled it and there are a number of theories dating back to the 1960’s.

I’m going to surmise from this photo that the village has either received Asian visitors, or there is access to television. The Chinese have a noticeable presence in Ghana, and we saw many vans with Korean writing on them, so it is a possibility that the village has received visitors from Asia. The other possibility is that the children have access to international television. While I don’t recall seeing satellite TV dishes in the village, I did see them in Lesotho, one of the poorest countries in the world.  I was surprised to see satellite TV dishes on some of the most rudimentary abodes in Lesotho, so I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a TV somewhere in this community. Truly a moment that illustrates the effects of globalization.

Now back to our story.

We had one more stop for the day. We walked a few yards across the village to meet one more cocoa farming family.  As we sat on their front porch and talked, a gaggle of children hung over the railings watching us.

The farmer, Fuseini Abdulai, farms a smaller plot of land than the first farmer, Abdul Razak. While Mr. Razak farms 22 acres, Mr. Abdulai farms 5 acres. Where Mr. Razak has 7 children and lives in a community a few yards down the road, Mr. Abdulai has two children, ages 7 and 10, and he and his family live in the immediate village. We asked Mr. Abdulai about his children, and he was able to find one in the nearby gaggle of kids and bring him over to meet us. We asked him about his favorite subject in school and he answered English.

While English is the official language of Ghana, these children speak Twi as their first language, and they learn Arabic and English in school. Their English, however, is limited. Our conversations with the farmers were held in Twi, which is the most common language spoken in Ghana, so the CARE team translated for us. As a Muslim community, learning Arabic is part of the school curriculum as well.  We noticed a child walking home to a different village from the school in Asarekwaa (not a short walk). Our driver pointed out that the school in the child’s village was probably not a Muslim school so his family sent him to this village for his education.

Me and Kristy with the Abdulai family and CARE team.
Me and Kristy with the Abdulai family and the CARE team

This was the end of our journey. We said our goodbyes to both the village community and to our CARE team, and we got back in the car with Abraham to head home to Accra.

This incredible day was one of the most joyful and meaningful experiences I have had in my tenure in the chocolate industry. I hope the farmers got something out of it as well. I will continue to tell their story to American consumers to help illustrate what it’s like to farm cocoa in Ghana.

If you want to help them, keep buying chocolate.

One Reply to “Part II: A Visit to Cocoa Farmers in Asarekwaa, Ghana”

  1. I am glad you brought chocolate to the people who farm it. most of them grow it but never get to taste it. I went to a presentation by Theo chocolate’s ambassador for chocolate. They go to the places their chocolate is grown and bring chocolate to the farmers which is much appreciated.

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