A recent BBC News article by Elizabeth Ohene from Ghana on cocoa farmers and the fact that big chocolate companies were insisting the farmers stop using children on their farms is one to ponder on. It is fascinating that people tend to beat around the bush on matter of child labour, why would a child be asked to do jobs meant for adults?
I am not the one to blame big chocolate companies for all that is not right with cocoa harvesting/production practices in Nigeria. Cocoa companies will continue to exploit as long as the host countries show no care for their own citizens. However, if chocolate companies such as Nestle, Hershey’s etc feel bad for the situation of child labour and also the fact that most of the farmers could barely make ends meet despite working all year round on the farm. These companies know too well that handouts of any kind only breed corruption, they know that the best way to share the wealth generated from cocoa is to:
a) Pay fair price per kilo of cocoa directly to the farmers
b) Reduce the number of middle men – right now they are way too many.
The condition around cocoa farm in West African countries is a mirror image of one another.
Most African farmers have subsistence farms, enough to provide the family with basic needs such as food, shelter and clothing. They work harder so they could add education to the equation as they yawn for their children to live better life than they had. In order to achieve these dreams of theirs, children have to be involved in the harvesting of cocoa. If they had to pay for labourers to do the children’s bits, then nothing, in the case of most farmers will be left behind to support children going to school. Now one needs to understand that farmers sending children to school is a choice some of them have to make, my parents made this choice at the expense of having a home of their own, social events that require spending money and certainly went without new outfits for years.
Farms in Nigeria come in small portions, as they all are family inheritance shared between family members, mostly male children. Most of the work is heavy manual labour. My father’s cocoa farm is not big compared to some of our neighbours, however, big enough that during the season, father could not work the farm all alone without needing helpers so he would wait until weekend when we (children) could help with labour. Sometimes he would defer the harvesting to during long holiday so we could help. This is the only work that my siblings and I ever had to help my father with. He did all the clearing and planting by himself. He did all other plantation such as cassava, yams, and maize all by himself and we will always be involved in harvesting.
We have a saying in my family farase (do it yourself).
Despite the huge investment of time and labour in getting cocoa ready for selling, my family could not rely on cocoa farm alone as no matter how much kilograms harvested per year, it is still not enough to sustain the family of 6. So mother has her own all year round farm work to complement.
With all these my family could not safe enough money to own a house of their own – not even a one-roomed house, we rented both in the village where they worked and in town where my siblings and I attended school.
The main reason children were involved in their parents’ work especially in the case of cocoa is because price/kilogram farmers received is less than ideal to allow parents to take on labourers. Most farmers and their families have never tasted chocolate bar in their life, just too expensive for them, the closer they get was the occasional Bournvita or Milo chocolate drink.
Of course my parents would have loved for myself and siblings to study or attended social events rather than to spend our time on the farm, but we simply could not afford doing so.
In nutshell, rather than the chocolate giants labelling African farmers or enforcing another rule of not using child labour – the rule that will never work, they should give this a try – pay fair price for the raw cocoa and see how lives would be changed for the better.
Although set in Ivory Coast, I found this documentary informative.
Another BBC News cocoa farm short video