Yao, the young ADIAS agroeconomist who worked with Clement, is equally pleased with the results so far. ‘I am very happy, especially when I see that the farmers follow my advice. It’s a great pleasure to share that experience with them.’
Working with the community in stages, they start by mapping out their population and resources, identifying their challenges together, then looking for solutions to those problems. For example, they support farmers to identify the right variety of cacao for their soil type, working alongside government advisers.
‘Some farms started in the 1990s but they are no longer fruitful,’ says Yao. ‘This suggests that they were not able to manage their finances well or didn’t know how to farm sustainably. We advise farmers to rest their land. We might suggest cutting the whole farm down or do it bit by bit and start again. It’s important for the land to rest. When the soil rests, it recomposes itself and regains its richness. Composting is used to enrich the soil and the plants and it helps to reduce erosion.’
Starting again from scratch can be a very frustrating experience for the farmers. ‘When they cut down their farm they feel like they don’t have anything. For a period they can’t harvest any cacao and they can feel ashamed, but it’s essential in the long term.’
Once the land has rested, for up to five years, Yao recommends planting banana plants first. These increase the moisture in the soil and are a complementary food crop to grow alongside cacao.
‘Banana plants enrich the soil and provide shade for the cacao saplings to be able to grow. It’s so important that we grow food crops such as peppers, tomatoes, aubergines and okra as well as cacao so that farmers and their families have food to eat during the tough times. Recently, there have been long periods of drought, but those who have grown these more unusual crops are coping better because they can sell them at a good price and they also have an improved diet.’
Learning to trust
Yao’s relationship with the farmers is ongoing. ‘We monitor their progress and continue to give feedback and advice. It’s true that when people trust you then they are able to learn. Trust is so important.’
Will felt privileged to see this relationship take root: ‘The peace and tranquillity of the cocoa plantation will stay with me for a very long time. It was a sheer delight to talk about cocoa with the people who lovingly tend these valuable plants in a spirit of hope and joy.’