From Cocoa Farmer’s Son to Farmer Advocate: The Journey of Issifu Issaka – Part 1

He founded a 3500-member cocoa farmers’ cooperative society in 2017. He now works with others to unite all cocoa farmers in Ghana. And he has joined the fight against Galamsey (illegal gold mining), a huge threat to cocoa and environmental sustainability.

But, once upon a time in Primary school, Issifu Issaka almost gave up school, like most of the children in Adukwasikrom – the village in Ghana’s Western North Region where he grew up.

It was 2006, and he was in his sixth and final year in Primary School. The next stage – Junior High School [JHS]- would begin the next academic year.

Primary School Struggles

But some of his peers from the village had begun talking about ‘not going again’.

Going to school meant walking about two hours to the nearest school at Akontombra. And after school, walking two hours back. Every day. Rain or shine.

Issifu wanted to give up.

Ever since he began his daily treks to school at age 8, he dreamed of becoming the first in his family to attend Senior High School. But after six years of walking, he faced the bitter truth:

‘It wasn’t easy.’

His motivation could no longer keep his 15-year-old limbs walking the long distance for another three years. It didn’t feel worthwhile anymore. Giving up looked enticing.

And giving up was easy. You just stop going. Everyone would understand.

But before he could do that …

‘I had an opportunity.’

Meeting Appiah

You see, Issaka had a friend who lived in Akontombra. His name was Appiah Kusi, the son of the Reverend Minister of the Methodist Church in the town.

Appiah was academically good. But he struggled with one subject. The very subject Issifu was extremely good at and loved – Mathematics.

To improve his maths, Appiah had an idea that would change the life of Issifu.

‘The boy told the father that he wants me to stay with him so that I will be teaching him maths.’

Issifu was Muslim. Appiah’s family was Christian. The Reverend minister accepted his son’s request.

From that time, instead of the two-hour trek to school and another 2 hours back, Issifu lived in Akontombra with Appiah’s family. There, things got easier for the boy, especially food:

‘Food became easy because, in the mission house, they used to cook in the morning and the afternoon.’ He didn’t have to walk and wait 2 hours to eat in the village anymore.

‘So during weekends – Friday – I used to go to the village, and then on Monday when I come to school, I will not return until the next Friday.’

Thus, relieved of the four-hour treks, he was able to complete the three-year Junior High School education.

I asked him, what if Appiah had not made that request?

‘I would have ended it in Class 6.’

Issifu Issaka at Chocoa 2024, Amsterdam

In 2009, Issifu passed his Basic Education Certificate Examination [BECE]. He qualified to achieve his dream of being the first in his family to attend Senior High School.

But at the time in Ghana, there was no free SHS, and the cost of tuition and accommodation was too high for the son of migrant farmers.

How did Issifu overcome this financial obstacle and other challenges to reach his dream?

In Part 2 of this story, we’ll find out.

Thank you for reading this story. It means so much to me. As you share it, please connect with Issifu on LinkedIn to learn more about his work.

❤️: Benjamin Setor

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Credit: Credit: Precious Elikplim, James Cofie, and Calvin Osei Tenkorang helped improve this story. I am grateful to them.

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