A Bittersweet Livelihood: How Cocoa360 plans to improve cocoa farmers’ standard of life

According to the non-profit Oxfam America, cocoa farmers on average make about three percent of the price of a chocolate bar. Farmer Obini says there’s not much left after what he pays for his kids’ school, so he sells vegetables along with home-brewed alcohol to supplement his income during the low production season.

With a population of 27 million, 60% of them living in rural areas, Ghana is troubled by health and wealth inequity. As the world’s second leading exporter of cocoa, it earns about $1.9 billion in cocoa export revenue annually. The hardworking cocoa farmers are key drivers of economic development yet suffer extreme poverty, earning as little as 84 cents a day.

Cocoa is sold and purchased through the government, which decides the quote of crop sales and purchases that return to farmers. Farmers have no representation in the decision-making process which keeps 1.6 million farmers in poverty in over 1300 cocoa-growing societies in rural Ghana. Consequently, many young farmers reject cocoa farming, since there is hardly any chance to make a sustainable living. A farmer’s income simply cannot keep up with rising production costs and household expenses.

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“Cocoa farmers are the bedrock of our industry and yet they appear to be the most vulnerable link in the cocoa value chain.” – Dr. Francis Oppong, Ghana Cocoa Board

These low returns for cocoa farmers perpetuate a painful cycle of impoverishment and economic insecurity. Lacking the resources for health services, many perish from treatable diseases. In the village of Tarkwa Breman, the nearest medical center is several miles away and the closest comprehensive medical clinic is 150 miles away. Furthermore, girls are not sent to school since their parents can only afford limited schooling. They are expected to get married and raise a family, so their education is neglected. Without the education they deserve, many fall victim to sexually transmitted diseases, early marriages, and teenage pregnancy.

Cocoa360, founded by a Penn alum, hopes to alleviate problems of health and education in Ghana. Starting in his rural village of Tarkwa Breman, Shamrock Frimpong realized the need for immediate action by building a community clinic and girl’s school. In exchange for subsidized fees, beneficiaries commit to a minimum of three hours weekly working on the non-profit’s 40-acre plantation. The profits from cocoa sales are then used to self-sustain the operating costs of the tuition-free school and the hospital. The nonprofit establishes a self-sustaining framework to improve the lives of cocoa farmers and their families.

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