Cocoa production in key regions in Ghana, especially the Western North Region, has declined to a historic low in recent years.
With about 70 per cent of farms in the region estimated to be affected, cocoa production volumes have been adversely impacted, reducing average annual output from 350,000 metric tonnes to barely 150,000 metric tonnes.
The sector regulator, Cocobod, has attributed the situation mainly to massive devastation by the Cocoa Swollen Shoot Virus Disease (CSSVD).
According to a 2017 survey, some 315,000 hectares of cocoa farms have been rendered unproductive by the disease, which so far has no cure.
Cocoa rehabilitation programme
In October 2020, the government of Ghana in conjunction with the Ghana Cocoa Board launched the National Cocoa Rehabilitation Programme.
The objective of the intervention is to cut and replant all CSSVD-infected and over-aged cocoa farms for replanting sustainably.
The AfDB-funded initiative requires millions of permanent shade trees to be planted alongside the cocoa seedlings.
However, it would take over a year before these permanent shade trees will be mature enough to serve their intended purpose of providing a canopy over the young cocoa trees.
To fill that shade gap, scientists identified plantain as the most suitable crop to provide temporary shade for the survival of cocoa seedlings.
Plantain is fast-growing, able to retain soil moisture for the benefit of the cocoa seedlings, and provides food for the farmers within 9 months.
No less than 1,100 plantain suckers would need to be planted per every hectare of the cocoa farm undergoing rehabilitation for the most effective outcome.
That translates to sourcing millions of plantain suckers for the rehabilitation gangs, in time for planting in the April-June planting window, depending on the onset of the rain.
For Cocobod, meeting this target was a near-impossible task, especially relying on traditional propagation methods.
A collaborative partnership by two indigenous Ghanaian agriculture supply chain management firms, Afarinick Company Limited and Kumad Global Impact Limited, birthed a homegrown and world-first solution.
Joe Forson is Chief Executive Officer of Afarinick Company Limited, one of the project partners and shares their motivation for the bold venture.
“We knew COCOBOD was in the process of rehabilitating roughly 136,000 hectares of diseased cocoa farms and will need plantain suckers for the project,” he explained.
Forson added, “So we approached COCOBOD, and told them that we have the technology and the resources to be able to deliver the plantain suckers that will be used to support the Cocoa Rehabilitation Programme.”
117 million plantain seedlings
The Kumasi-based firms successfully pooled years of experience, human resources, and technical know-how to deliver arguably the world’s biggest plantain seedling nursery here in Ghana.
The site covers an estimated area of 400 hectares at Suaman-Dadieso, in the Western North Region, at the very heart of Cocobod’s cocoa rehabilitation campaign.
With their state-of-art propagation and manipulation technology, they are able to multiply a single plantain sucker to about 120 seedlings.
By the close of the year 2023, the project is expected to have delivered its target of 117 million plantain seedlings.
In the meantime, managers of the plantain nursery are optimistic about delivering an initial 35 million seedlings by September this year.
Source: Cocoa post