A few months ago we met Tamara. The 25-year-old student approached us because she wanted to research and write her master thesis about the effects of initiatives like fairafric on the reality of life of cocoa farmers in Ghana. In her finished master thesis with the title “Impacts of private standards on poverty reduction, investment decisions and risk preferences. A case study of small-scale organic certified cocoa farmers in the Eastern Region of Ghana” she highlighted the practical effects of the cooperation with fairafric on poverty reduction among farmers* in the Ghanaian district of Suhum. We interviewed her about this.
- Hello Tamara! Perhaps you would like to introduce yourself quickly?
Hi. Yes, of course. I am Tamara, 25 years old and come from near Stuttgart. I studied geography in Bochum in my bachelor’s degree and in the meantime I specialized in development cooperation. I then completed my Master’s degree in Development Management and spent a lot of time at our partner universities in Cape Town, Kenya and Ghana.
- How did you come across fairafric and your idea for the study?
I had to decide right at the beginning of my Master’s degree in which direction my Master’s thesis should go. I wanted to do something empirical and thought about field research in sustainable agriculture, e.g. cooperative work in cocoa with a focus on fair trade. At that time I happened to watch the Arte documentary about fairafric on television. That put my idea into concrete terms.
- ……and you contacted us. What exactly did you do in your research?
First of all I had to deal with the topic of cocoa trade in general, because the whole topic with its different standards and seals is very complex. Once I had defined the topic in concrete terms, I contacted you and thus also got in touch with Yayra Glover Initiative. I then went to Ghana to meet with my contact person of the Yayra Glover Initiative. First of all I had to change my research region (the Volta Region), because here the cooperative work had just started and the results would not have been meaningful enough. Therefore we chose the Suhum Region. Our procedure was then the following: George, a Field Officer of the Yayra Glover Initiative, was my contact, helper, companion and translator. Farmers – those who were members of the initiative – were chosen at random. Those who were not members of an initiative were selected differently; with a so-called stratified snowball sampling. We then went to them and interviewed them.
- How did the farmers react?
They were all very positive, open and very reliable. Before the interviews, they usually wanted to know the purpose of the survey and, when we explained it to them, whether the study would promise them concrete benefits. The problem was, of course, that we couldn’t promise them these. I can only hope that my research will make a difference in the end.
- So you interviewed 226 farmers and compared two groups of farmers: those who are cooperative members in the Yayra Glover Initiative and those who are not (yet) in a cooperative. Was it a 50/50 quota?
No, not quite. 106 farmers were from the comparison group and 120 farmers were members of the Yayra Glover Initiative. The different number is partly due to the fact that unfortunately not all of them could always be reached. But most of all there were only very few villages left that do not work with any kind of cooperative and therefore it was really difficult to find replacements for unusual farmers for the interview who really do not participate in any kind of cooperative. Especially interviewing them was often very emotional, because many of them wanted to tell their story or get access to a cooperative.
- Fact check: What Tamara found out during her interviews:
The main reason for farmers participating in a cooperative project was the cocoa premium. In particular, they expected that the premium would enable them to hire more workers, buy equipment for their cocoa farm, pay school fees and cover their own household consumption. Two other reasons for participating in the Yayra Glover Initiative program are the training courses on organic farming methods and the organic inputs offered by Yayra Glover. These two reasons were often cited in connection with the motivation to increase cocoa yields, protect the environment and maintain their farms in a sustainable manner. Food safety and health also played a role in the decision to participate.
The main aspects of non-participation were as follows: Either the farmers had no information about such private standards and certification programs or they knew about them but could not join because there is no LBC (Licensed Buying Company) or cooperative in their communities that implements standards and certification.
- Tamara, your conclusion of the study is that farmers should have access to information and training on certification and food standards so that they can participate in such programs. How do you think this could be implemented in practice?
On the one hand, the government should do more in this area. COCOBOD (Ghana Cocoa Board) still relies on very traditional cocoa, and this is where a rethink should take place. COCOBOD and the government should work together here so that higher standards can be established in the remaining villages as well. This could be achieved, for example, by COCOBOD working actively with cooperatives such as the Yayra Glover Initiative.
- Fact check: This is what Tamara found out about the impact of the fairafric and Yayra Glover Initiative:
As far as the non-monetary poverty dimensions are concerned, the program contributes significantly to the farmers participating in the Yayra Glover Initiative being better able to meet the basic needs of households as well as the costs of agricultural maintenance. It leads to an increase in general life satisfaction, happiness and an improvement in the general standard of living of the farmers, especially with regard to sanitation and housing. Furthermore, the programme supports the increasing empowerment of the farmers, i.e. the power and control over economic resources (economic empowerment) as well as the political participation and consideration of the farmers’ interests in politics (political empowerment). In the field of education, the programme contributes significantly to reducing illiteracy among the children of the farmers and to raising the farmers’ awareness that educational services are affordable. Many farmers stated that one of their motives for participating in the program was that the cocoa premium would enable them to pay their children’s school fees. In addition, more farmers are able to obtain health insurance for their children. This also increases the perception of the affordability of health facilities such as hospitals. Although the programme does not increase the overall income of households, it does reduce poverty in relation to other dimensions, which seem to be influenced by the increase in income from cocoa farming, among other things.
- You found that despite the same average yield level, farmers participating in the program can earn an annual average of about $91 per hectare more from cocoa farming than non-participating farmers. Nevertheless, the programme has no impact on the overall income of households (including other sources of income besides cocoa production) and therefore does not contribute to poverty reduction in the sense of monetary poverty. How do you explain this?
The total household income of the smallholders does not only consist of cocoa farming, i.e. not only of one component, but in addition the families have e.g. a small shop, sell food cooked by the women on the street or individual family members are day labourers. But this is all a very irregular income. In addition many families receive transfer income. Transfer income means that children or other family members work elsewhere and send money home. This transfer income was twice as high for farmers who were not members of a cooperative as for farmers who are in a cooperative. Why exactly this is so, I could not find out. In concrete terms, this means: What the cooperative farmers earn more from the cocoa, the other farmers receive, so at the end the difference in income was not so big.
- What surprised you most about the results of the study? Or did you expect the outcome?
Of course I hoped that the results would be like this, and when I found the hope confirmed, it was of course very nice to see. However, I also expected to see that the expenses for workers on certified farms would be higher. Because there are less pesticides used there, there are more weeds, so you need more farm workers, but that wasn’t the case – the conventional farmers had the same amount of money spent on farm workers, which surprised me.
However, what I found out about the illiteracy rate was impressive: Here I expected the illiteracy rate to be higher among the children and young people of the non-certified farmers because they have less money for schools. This was confirmed with another meaningful result. I found that the difference in the illiteracy rate between certified and non-certified farms is even greater among children (8-14 years) than among young people (15-24 years). This means that the children of certified farmers can be sent to school earlier or more regularly. For me, this alone confirms the impact of the cooperative programme.
- Furthermore, you have found confirmation of the thesis that certain restrictions that apply specifically to poor farming households (e.g. low income) lead to risk-averse behaviour because they are less able to cope with external shocks. Do you think that it would make sense to pay the premiums in machines?
Many farmers wanted to add to the interviews that it would be nice if they received more inputs, e.g. more boots or machetes. The Yayra Glover Initiative has taken up this idea and wants to make more such equipment available from next season. But the free decision about the premiums makes sense, because it strengthens the individual decisions of the farmers*. And the increase of power and control over economic resources (economic empowerment) is an enormously important component for the cooperative farmers. I also expected to see the farmers in the cooperative showing a greater willingness to take risks through greater financial stability. Although this was not the case, the investment behaviour showed that the cooperative farmers would be more willing to invest in other livelihoods (such as a shop) in addition to cocoa farming, as they are probably already satisfied with the income from cocoa farming. This investment behaviour of the farmers to diversify their livelihoods, which has changed due to the fairafric programme, is another important aspect.
- You have repeatedly written that even the current research literature on comparable research questions does not reflect the whole reality, for example, in the reasons why the farmers had not joined a cooperative. Do you think that research here approaches a practical problem too theoretically?
Good question. I do think that the research here is generally too much focused on theory and that there are too few empirical studies on the subject that find out the real reasons, which can also vary in different contexts. But I also think that the government is again not working hard enough to solve the problem. For example, I had great difficulty in finding a database or the like in which villages are listed or registered by region and in which it is noted which ones cooperate with what kind of certification program or not. If the government would cooperate with the research here, one might have a better overview, could tackle the problem and introduce certifications consistently throughout the country without leaving or excluding anyone.
- What do you personally take away from this intensive practical research experience?
I am motivated to continue researching in this direction. I have realized once again that food purchasing decisions really do make a difference. But also that a (Fairtrade) seal does not always have to have an impact and that products without a seal do not always have to be bad. It is simply difficult to maintain an overview of the seal landscape. I am therefore very motivated to educate and motivate people to buy sustainable products.
- Is there anything else you want to let us know?
fairafric should get more reach (laughs). So far it is difficult to get chocolate locally everywhere in Germany. But shifting the added value to the country of origin is an incredibly good model and should get much more attention. A fairer trade is hardly possible.
Thank you, Tamara, for your work and the interesting results!
Note: If you have any further questions about Tamara’s study, we will be happy to contact her.