From Cocoa Farmer’s Son to Farmer Advocate: The Journey of Issifu Issaka – Part 2

In part 1 of this story, Issifu Issaka was able to complete Junior High School, thanks to support from his friend Appiah Kusi.

But, when you’re from a remote village like Adukwasikrom and you complete Junior High School, you’ve ‘completed school’.

Your next step is to get a piece of land and go into farming, like everyone else. Or you could move to a nearby town to learn a skill: welding, tiling, masonry, hairdressing, tailoring, etc.

If you’re among the brightest students, you have a chance of going to Senior High School (SHS). But your parents (or family) must afford it. Otherwise, you end up (most likely) a farmer, and life continues.

However, Issifu wanted to attend SHS.

He had made the grades. He had been placed at the Sehwi Bekwai Senior High School, a boarding school, so he would be taken care of. Yet, his parents couldn’t afford the cost.

One of his elder brothers, Ibrahim Issaka, decided to intervene.

Ibrahim didn’t make it to Senior High School, but he would at least try to help his younger brother to achieve his dream. After all, it’s the family’s dream, too.

Overcoming first-day school disappointment

So, on the day of reporting to school, the older brother set off with Issifu on the 90km trip to Sehwi Bekwai Senior High School, where a big disappointment awaited.

During the registration process, it was revealed to them, ‘Boarding house is full.’

Issifu had to become a day student, meaning he had to rent a room close to the school and walk to and from class every day. He also had to cook or buy his food, instead of being fed thrice a day in school. Simply put, more expenses.

“I felt very bad because at that time I didn’t know anybody in Sehwi Bekwai. So not getting accommodation made me worried.”

Ibrahim asked strangers for help. He learned about a lady who was renting out a room. So they quickly found her, and Issifu got a room. This wasn’t how he expected to achieve his dream. But, this was what he needed. He just didn’t know.

Unloading his financial burden

It turned out that Issifu’s landlady was a cocoa farmer.

‘So I used to go to the farm with this woman every weekend when I was in the house. I go and escort her. We do weeding, we do the harvesting, all the cocoa farming activities.’

Of course, none of those activities was new to him:

‘In JHS, I used to assist my father on the farm, particularly when I closed from school. I used to visit the farm and learn to do cocoa farming activities. So I didn’t have a problem when I went to SHS and was supporting the woman, because I already had some basic knowledge in cocoa farming.’

In recognizing the boy’s kindness, his landlady sometimes gave him food. ‘Sometimes, too, she would give me money, especially when we go to the farm.’ This way, his money troubles reduced, a little.

But the biggest relief came when, one day, the school announced that the children of cocoa farmers should pick up forms to apply for the (recently terminated) COCOBOD Scholarship. Fortunately, he got the funding, and his tuition was fully taken care of.

Thus, in 2013, after 4 years as a day student, Issifu completed Senior High School. The first among nine siblings. His dream had finally come true.

But that was not all. The young man has built many good relationships with the people in Sehwi Bekwai. Being a day student wasn’t a bad thing after all:

‘It made me get access to many people in the community. So, after completing school, I decided not to go back to my parents in Akontombra.’

The cocoa farmer’s graduate son set out to look for work.

Through his connections, he became an announcer at the town’s ‘information center’. His job was to collect information from people and announce it to the public through a PA system. Unknown to him, this humble job, later, would become a valuable asset.

Later in 2014, he got a bigger job as a mobile banker, which he did for ‘three good years,’ until 2017. Then he decided it was time to put to use the cocoa farming skills he had learned from his parents.

Issifu decided to become a cocoa farmer.

Founding a Farmers’ Cooperative

He got his land, started working on it, and, suddenly, felt something wrong.

‘What I realized was that the farmers weren’t united. Everybody was fully concentrating on his farm. I saw that, no, there is the need to bring the farmers together.’

And this is where his skills and position as announcer proved crucial. He was well-known.

‘I did the announcement that “we are forming a cocoa farmers cooperative. So if you are a cocoa farmer and you want to join come to register.”’

As he waited he prepared a form: ‘*the farmer’s name, the farm size, the location of the farm, and the rest.’

And then, magic….

‘So, Ah!, the first day I made the announcement, close to 20 farmers came to make inquiry about this cooperative. And they were very happy that cocoa farmers want to come together!’

‘The next day, over 50 farmers came to register. Within one week, 200 farmers had registered. And, these farmers, they live in the Bekwai city and they have their farms in the surrounding [village] communities. So when they go to the communities, they announce this information to the farmers there.’

After one week of announcements, more farmers were moving now from the village to the city to register, and within a month, over 1000 farmers had signed up to be part of the cooperative.

‘So I saw that truly truly, the farmers need this kind of association.’

Members of Sehwi Bekwai Cocoa Farmers’ Cooperative pose after a meeting. Photo Credit: Issifu Issaka

Today, the Sehwi Bekwai Cocoa Farmers Cooperative Society, which the Senior High School graduate founded, boasts over 3500 farmers. They have collaborated with several organizations to improve the lives of farmers.

These days, the experiences this young cocoa farmer has gathered have proven invaluable as he is working with several civil society organizations to promote the welfare and interest of cocoa farmers in Ghana.

But the story of Issifu has just begun. And as it unfolds, you’ll get to read more about his journey.

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

❤️: Benjamin Setor

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

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