Ghana Cocoa farmer Abraham Adusei

Abraham Adusei (right) was chosen as Ghana’s Cocoa Farmer of the Year for 2013 while Theophilus Tamakloe was recognized as the country’s promising young cocoa farmer. Photos provided.

How often have we heard that so many cocoa farmers never get to taste the very “food of the gods” that they grow? Although I don’t have a firm statistical grasp on this, I’m willing to say that’s the case for more than the majority.

So when The Hershey Co. announced it was bringing Ghana’s Best Cocoa Farmer in 2013 for a visit, I couldn’t be more pleased about the good news. Now here’s a good idea that’s worth replicating. Having been to Ghana in 2008 as part of a World Cocoa Foundation tour of the country, I immediately wanted to find out more about this farmer. 

Editor-in-chief Bernie Pacyniak
Bernie Pacyniak

After a few inquiries, Jeff Beckman, Hershey’s director of corporate communications, suggested a conference call with Abraham Adusei, the farmer and former headmaster who garnered the 2013 prize. Sitting in on the call would be Francis Oppong, deputy chief executive, agronomy and quality control of the Ghana Cocoa Board, as well as Noah Amenyah, public affairs manager, Andy McCormick, Hershey’s senior director of cocoa sustainability, Adusei’s wife, Ewa, and Laura Renaud, Hershey’s associate manager of corporate communications.

So what prompted a retired educator to turn to cocoa farming, I asked Adusei during a brief audio tete-a-tete? Well, the 71-year-old Ghanian quickly explained all. While teaching and being headmaster, he also became interested in farming.  The fact that his father was a cocoa father no doubt helped lay the groundwork. That, along with being bequeathed his father’s lands spurred him to purchase some additional parcels along the way.

Thus, when he retired in 1999, Adusei was more than prepared to devote all his energies to cocoa farming. Today, he owns 400 hectares of land spread across Ghana in both the western and eastern parts of the country.

He credits Ghana’s Cocoa Board for helping to provide him with the training and seedlings to improve his cocoa bean quality as well as his yield.

“The Cocoa Board’s programs have shown me how to control pests, the Black Pod disease, and they have helped provide fertilizers. And my tonnage has increased considerably, from 140 tons to 200 tons,” he says.

Even so, it’s no easy task to be chosen as Ghana’s best cocoa farmer.

As Oppong explained, the Cocoa Board sets stringent criteria. Not only do farmers need to demonstrate a high level of productivity, more than 450 kilograms per hectare, but they need to demonstrate good agricultural practices, good breeding techniques and pest and disease control.

Farms have to be ethically run, meaning they cannot be engaged in any child labor, and they must respect the environment.

“The farmers being considered have to display good leadership qualities and demonstrate that they will have an impact on other farmers in the community,” Oblong says.f

There are 35 cocoa farming districts in Ghana, and the Board selects a representative from each district, he adds. From those districts seven regional farmers are selected, and then one is eventually chosen at the country’s cocoa farmer of the year. The process takes about three months, with a formal announcement made on the first Friday of December.

Typically, the Cocoa Board has sent farmers chosen for the award — its origins go back to 1985 — to visit UK agricultural fairs. In 2009, the Board sponsored a farmer’s visit to South Africa. Last year, Hershey, as part of its Learn to Grow program and through its work with the Cocoa Board, decided to bring Ghana’s best farmer as well as best aspiring male and female young farmers to Hershey, Pa.

“In 2012, we decided to create an award for a young promising farmer as well as a young promising female farmer,” Oblong says.

The move was designed to encourage as well recognize the next generation of farmers, a concern in Ghana. 

Ghana Cocoa farmer Akua Boatemah

Akua Boatemah received recognition as Ghana’s promising young female farmer in 2013 for practicing key tenets of sustainable farming: using modern farming practices, leveraging technology and approaching cocoa farming as a business.

Currently, the average age of cocoa farmers in the country is 50.

Oblong says the Cocoa Board has begun talking to opinion leaders throughout Ghana to see how they can increase accessibility to land for young farmers. 

“We want to show them that cocoa farming can be a profitable enterprise, a lucrative business,” he says. The effort is also meant to bring the younger generation back to the villages, and thereby encouraging them to stay and help build the community.

And so, what did Adusei think of his trip to Hershey?

“I was so much impressed,” says Adusei. “It’s really an important lesson in my life. When I get back to Ghana, I’ll have a lot to say about Hershey.”

During his visit to Hershey, Adusei not only received a tour of Chocolate World (and the amusement park), but the company’s modern manufacturing facility. He also visited the Milton Hershey School, providing him the opportunity to talk with students as well as local farmers.

That — and really no surprise here since Adusei is both an educator and a farmer — was one of the highlights for him, says McCormack.

During our conference call, I asked Adusei whether he had tasted chocolate made from his own beans. And he said yes, since he produced it himself. Again, I shouldn’t have been taken aback, the man was a headmaster after all.

When quizzed about his children being interested in cocoa farming, Adusei responded by saying that they were in school currently. He did mention, however, that his wife, Ewa, had started up farming and he was hopeful she could take home the promising young female cocoa farmer award.

McCormick told me during the interview that Adusei would also have the opportunity to visit Washington, D.C. this past weekend, breaking bread with the World Cocoa Foundation and taking in some sights.

Personally, I’m thrilled that Hershey decided to sponsor Adusei, his wife and the young aspiring farmers. As much as it was an educational extravaganza for him and his wife, I sense that several folks at Hershey also learned from the exchange.

So, don’t you think it would be wonderful if we had cocoa farmers from around the world visiting our cities and informing consumers about what it’s like to grow and harvest the food of the gods? There’s so much we could share and learn from each other.