Smiling Leticia poses by a cocoa on her farm.

She Was Clueless About Cocoa. Now She Leads a 600-member Women’s Farming Cooperative in Ghana: Meet Leticia A. Yankey

She’s an award-winning cocoa farmer and entrepreneur. She’s also a humanitarian and a passionate learner. She advocates for women in cocoa farming. And today, her work revolves around helping them make the most of their hard work.

But Leticia A. Yankey had no thought of becoming a cocoa farmer. At a young age, the holder of a Master’s in Public Administration would see farmers growing the cash crop, but she never desired to be like them.

Until 2010.

That year, she was in the Upper Denkyira district in Ghana. Sensitizing rural communities on HIV/AIDS. Supporting persons living with the virus. Giving them hope. That’s how Leticia met a friend who – like many others – was grateful she was at his side when everyone else rejected him. This man wanted to make his “savior” a part of the Asikuma community so he could see her often. How?

Help her start her cocoa farm.

A first-time cocoa farmer with bold steps

After several rounds of persuasion, Leticia finally decided to try cocoa farming. But she didn’t have the money to buy land. So, her generous friend helped her secure a 7-acre plot that she could pay off later.

The soil wasn’t rich. So, she quickly invested in chicken droppings and sawdust to fertilize it. Other friends in the community helped. And she started an intercrop of cocoa, cassava, maize, cocoyam, and plantain on half of the piece of land.

6 months later, the first-time farmer made enough from selling the food crops to pay off her land, with support from her husband. After 2 years, she saw the first flowers of her young cocoa plants. Her own cocoa plants! This gingered her to put more energy into the work. And in 2015, the new farmer had her first harvest of cocoa. The icing on the cake was a whopping 120 pods from one tree. We can only imagine her joy.

Since then, events will quickly move Leticia to turn her cocoa farming experience into a life of empowerment and advocacy.

In 2016 the mother of four was at the 3rd World Cocoa Conference in the Dominican Republic as a panelist. And then she was at Chocovision 2016 in Switzerland as a speaker. There, she shared her farming experience and advocated for women’s inclusion in cocoa as a move toward its sustainability. Returning to Ghana, she helped COCOBOD organize talks to inspire young people to enter cocoa farming. That same year on Farmers’ Day, she was awarded the Central Regional Most Enterprising Female Cocoa Farmer.

It dawned on Leticia, then, that she was doing something good. Something the women in her farming community could also enjoy.

‘’These women in my community can weed better, crack cocoa pods better, and harvest cocoa better than me. But because of education and the opportunity to interact with people outside the community, I’ve gotten this knowledge. So I’ll share whatever I have learned with them”

2018 came, and she joined the Women in Cocoa and Chocolate Network (WINCC). She connected with other women entrepreneurs and farmers in the cocoa value chain. They inspired her to want to do more for the women in Asikuma where her farm is.

A farmers’ cooperative to empower women

In July 2019, COCOBOD, Ghana’s cocoa governing authority, launched a policy to support the formation of farmer cooperatives. But Leticia had already mobilized women in her community. To support them through some of the challenges preventing them from excelling as farmers and entrepreneurs. In her own words “I don’t know, but I developed a passion for farmers, especially women”.

This passion would move her, and as you might have predicted, she formed a women’s farmers’ cooperative which she named Cocoa Mmaa, literally “Cocoa Women”.

Since it launched, Cocoa Mmaa has brought together about 600 women farmers in the Upper Denkyira East district. The cooperative has created a Rural Service Centre to train members in safe and sustainable cocoa farming. With partners like Solidaridad West Africa, Rainforest Alliance, Ecocare, and Guzakuza they help women get agricultural, financial, and entrepreneurial skills so they have more control of their farms and their lives.

Leticia Yankey with Cocoa Maa members.

Leticia’s hard work and passion were recognized. And at National Farmers’ Day 2019, she was awarded the Most Enterprising Female Cocoa Farmer of Ghana.

When I won the award, it motivated me a lot to do more. Sometimes I’d move to the women, from house to house, village to village. I was telling them that we have to come together to help one another.

As a cooperative, Cocoa Mmaa does not merely sell dried cocoa beans to the market. Value addition has been on their mind, and with their dried cocoa pods, they make and sell black soap in the local market. But it doesn’t end there. Led by Leticia, their eyes are fixed on an even bigger prize.

Value addition. Learning from the Cross Atlantic Chocolate Club

Inspired by her daughter who dreams of turning her mother’s cocoa into chocolate, Leticia A. Yankey founded the Cross Atlantic Chocolate Collective through her network.

The CACC brings together cocoa farmers and chocolatiers in Africa and in the Caribbean, to support one another and grow cocoa value addition. Members of the collective include generous experts like Gillian Goddard of Sun Eaters Organics (Trinidad and Tobago), Jeanne of Bioko Treats (Ghana), Uzo of Loom Chocolate (Nigeria), Nana Aduna II of Ohene Cocoa (Ghana), and Aaron Sylvester of Tri Island Chocolate in Grenada.

After several video calls, many questions asked on the online forum, and of course, many trials, Leticia made her first chocolate bar!

It wasn’t only a win for herself. It was a win for her daughter, who now has more drive to achieve her dream. It was a win for the Mmaa Cocoa Cooperative, who now boast of owning a chocolate bar – the “Mmaa Chocolate”. And it was a win for all the members of the CACC, who want to see more cocoa farmers add value to their beans. Leticia sees something special about the club:

We (the CACC) see ourselves as people who want Africans to progress in the cocoa industry. We all want to see cocoa farmers in a better position. That we own the industry.

A shot of the Mmaa Chocolate packaging.
A shot of the Mmaa Chocolate packaging.

But as Leticia has learned, making chocolate requires investment into machines like the bean cracker, the winnower, and the melanger. And that’s an obstacle she’s working hard to overcome.

Besides that, Ghana’s cocoa laws restrict locals from using their beans to make chocolate and other products. Leticia looks forward to a revision of these laws to encourage more chocolate lovers to help grow the value-addition industry in Ghana.

Youth in Ghana Cocoa

Asked about what she thinks of youth involvement in Ghana’s chocolate industry, Leticia observed that young people are enthusiastic about value addition in cocoa: “Most people in ITC (International Trade Center) are youth. I’ve seen chocolatiers in Ghana who work with a lot of youth in the industry.”

But the same energy is getting rarer on the cocoa production side: “Cocoa production has become unattractive, because of the price.” In Asikuma, for instance, it’s hard to find young farmers to help with the many activities on the farm, especially when “Galamsey” (illegal mining) makes them quicker money than cocoa farming. She hopes that changes to encourage more youth to find a home in cocoa production.

Going forward

Leticia’s mission is to grow the Cocoa Mmaa cocoa cooperative into an even bigger entity. And after getting here from knowing nothing about cocoa farming, she’s even more empowered to go further, allowing nothing to slow her down.

I know that greater things are ahead.

The Director of Cocoa Mmaa wants fewer restrictions on what Ghanaians can do with their cocoa beans: “I want to see many different chocolate companies in Africa. Instead of sending raw cocoa to the outside world.” She also wants to see more youth in the industry, and she’s already putting in some work to make it possible.

After 12 years of cocoa farming (from 2010), Leticia owns 37 acres of cocoa and 13 acres of rubber. She’s married with 4 children. Her story is an example of how cocoa can turn lives around. And as you’ve seen, it has just begun.

Connect with Leticia on Instagram.

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