Cocoa farmers extract the bean from the plant.

Since she was a young girl, Felicia Ama Nyaukowaa has worked in the scorching Ghana sun tending to a cocoa farm.

Despite the popularity of chocolate - made from cocoa from farms like hers - she still lives in abject poverty and cannot afford to buy it. And just this month, Nyaukowaa, 85, and other farmers in her community had their first taste of Mondelez International chocolate.

The farmers in New Juaben were given chocolates to taste by the Mondelez International team that was visiting to inspect the Cocoa Life Programme that aims to ensure a sustainable supply of cocoa.

While the worldwide chocolate industry is worth billions, cocoa farmers live in poverty. In Ghana, the farmers make between 30000 cedis and 35000 cedis (about R105000) a year. This is one of the things that Mondelez Cocoa Life is trying to improve by ensuring that farmers have other sources of income when the bean is not in season.

Cocoa beans being dried at a farm.

In Nyaukowaa’s community, they have savings and loan schemes. In other communities, farmers make and sell soap made from palm oil and one community has started a baking co-operative.

These initiatives, according to Matilda Broni, the community development manager for Cocoa Life in Ghana, will ensure that farmers and their families do not struggle during the off seasons. The main cocoa season is around May to August. The minor season is from September to November. Cocoa Life, which was started in 2008, works with about 500 cocoa communities in Ghana.

While the industry is fighting age-old problems like poverty and child labour, they also have to deal with new issues like climate change and illegal mining on their land.

Broni said: “During our time you would only see rain from April to July. Now it’s not like that. It is now raining much more. If it continues like that it will affect the cocoa trees. Farmers don’t know when to start farming.”

One of the managers at the Cocoa Board in Bonsu said: “We can’t water our cocoa trees any more. Our one source of life, our river, has been poisoned by illegal miners. Farmers want to make extra money and they sometimes allow these people to mine on their lands. They simply don’t understand the havoc they are causing.”

One of the biggest problems in cocoa farming is child labour and this Cocoa Life is fighting by ensuring that children and communities have access to education and schools.

Members of a Cocoa Life Program baking co-operative make bread.

Broni said they tried to ensure that communities and children were aware of schools - even if they had to travel long distances. Those who travelled long distances were often supplied with bicycles.

“We want to see children happy, running to school because a teacher will be there teaching them and there would be books.

“We are working with children, communities and the authorities to make sure that children see the need to go to school. Then we get parents to support the child in going to school,” Broni said.

She said it was hard to give figures on how many children in the Cocoa Life Programme farms were involved in child labour, but it was a minuscule number.

“I can’t give you a figure. In our Cocoa Life Programme we are saying that child labour is something you can’t find. We are looking at the socialisation process and what child labour is. At a point it is very difficult to draw a line between the socialisation process and child labour.

“We are saying let’s start from child welfare and development. Lets teach the communities what child labour is, and what effects it will have on the child. After implementing the programme for a few years we used the Ghana Child monitoring system. The number of children targeted at that time was 5000, and the figure (for those in child labour) was very small. We looked at those who were in the worst child labour, and only 3% came from cocoa farms. The rest were in different sectors,” Broni said.

The 2018 Cocoa Barometer indicates that child labour remains at very high levels in the cocoa sector, with an estimated 2.1million children working in cocoa fields in Ivory Coast and Ghana.

“Child labour is due to a combination of root causes, including structural poverty, increased cocoa production, and a lack of schools.”

At the Asikasu Municipal Assembly Junior High School in New Juaben enrolment is still low - still fewer than 50 for three grades - but it is improving thanks to a teachers’ quarter that was build through the Cocoa Life Programme. Instead of travelling long distances, teachers are now able to stay at the quarters closer to the school.

Pupils at Asikasu Municipal Assembly Junior High School in New Juaben, Ghana.

Principal Henry Obiri said: “We are seeing a difference day to day with more students coming to school. Introducing a feeding scheme might also improve things. We are seeing a big increase at primary schools that offer feeding schemes,” he said.

Teacher Joyce Fynn in the Kraboa-Coaltar District said parents were willing to send their children to school, but were sometimes too poor to pay school fees.

“They are willing to have the children in school, but the money isn’t there. They come to school to explain, and you see that they now understand why it is important to have their children at school,” Fynn said.

One of the Cocoa Life Programme partners, Julius Tsatsu from Right to Play International, said that because of high poverty rates, it was sometimes hard to stop children from working.

“In some communities because of poverty, children take it upon themselves to find jobs. We then have to come into those communities and explain to everyone why it is wrong for the children to be put to work.”

Both Tsatsu and Broni said there must be a distinction between children working and those who were just helping out in their family’s fields after school.

Cocoa Life Program poster on child labour displayed at a school.

The 2018 Cocoa Barometer states that “not a single company or government is anywhere near reaching the sector-wide objective of the elimination of child labour, and not even near their commitments of a 70% reduction of child labour by 2020. Sector-wide efforts to improve the lives of farmers, communities and the environment are having little impact; the scope of proposed solutions is not even in the ballpark of addressing the scope of the problem”.

This does not stop students and teachers from being enthusiastic about their future. Asked what they wanted to be when they finished school, students at Kraboa-Coaltar District have big dreams. They dream of being teachers, nurses, pilots - and one wants to be a scientist.