Ghana: VisionSpring committed to screening 20,000 cocoa farmers in 2022

BY: GraphicOnline
VisionSpring committed to screening 20,000 cocoa farmers in Ghana
VisionSpring committed to screening 20,000 cocoa farmers in Ghana

Faustina Amoah, a 52-year-old farmer, yearns to help her husband; on their cocoa farm, however, she’s limited in what help she can offer because of her failing eyesight.

“Farm extension officers have taught us how to hand pollinate our cocoa crops,; but I am not able to do it because I cannot see clearly.”

Faustina’s husband, 61- year- old Agya Adu Amoah cannot manually pollinate his crops either. This comes with a high labor cost to the couple who have to hire farm hands and pay between 200 and 280 Ghana Cedis per acre for their four-hectare cocoa farm.

Hand pollination is the process of manually transferring pollen from one flower to the stigma of another flower. This procedure ensures high yields of up to five times.

Agricultural Extension Officers teach cocoa farmers to manually pollinate their crops, but more than half of farmers who go through the improvised eye testing process in the Asante Akyem Central Municipality in the Ashanti Region of Ghana fail.

To check their sight and stability, the farmers are made to thread a needle. About 50 per cent of them fail this test.

Apart from hand pollination, farmers need a clear vision for the different stages of the farming process, according to Ella Gudwin, Chief Executive Officer of global social enterprise, VisionSpring.

“We often think about farming as not being visually intensive, but cocoa farming is incredibly visually intensive. There are so many parts of the process, from working with the seeds to the nursery to hand pollination; these are incredibly detailed processes. It’s the workers who are doing that hand pollination who need to be able to see the tiniest piece of pollen to be able to increase the cocoa yield and to increase their income.”

To this end, VisionSpring is on a mission to screening the vision of about 20,000 farmers and community members in Ghana this year alone.

As a social enterprise, VisionSpring has been helping Ghana’s low-income communities get eyeglasses since 2017. Already, the organization has disbursed over 100,000 eyeglasses to people in low-income communities particularly those who use their hands for detailed tasks such as weavers, cocoa and shea farmers, and other agricultural workers with visually intensive tasks.

One of such screening exercises came off at Konongo, in the Asante Akyem Central Municipality on August 15, 2022.

“I can now help my husband on the farm,” Faustina said, as she tried on her pair of eyeglasses for the first time. She is also looking forward to singing from her hymn book and reading her own copy of the bible at church.

The screening exercise coincided with a visit of the Board of Directors of VisionSpring to Ghana. The visit was for the members of the board to acquaint themselves with the country’s eye care landscape and strategize on how to serve more communities in the future. VisionSpring works with partners such as COCOSHE, Ghana Health Service, Ghana Education Service, Allianz Life Insurance, and Total Vision Eyecare Services to serve communities in Ghana.

The five days exercise had almost 1,000 people screened; the majority of them being cocoa farmers. More than half of the people screened were diagnosed with refractive errors and presbyopia and were given eyeglasses. Cataract cases were booked for surgery while those with suspected glaucoma were referred for further examination and management.

A significant number of the people who were screened had never had an eye exam before. An optometrist and the head of the screening team at Konongo, Dr Bismark Nyarko stressed the need for a comprehensive eye exam “at least once a year to be able to detect sight-threatening conditions and reduce avoidable blindness”.

His appeal was re-echoed by George Osei Boateng, an Agricultural Extension Officer. According to him, constant eye screening for cocoa farmers will go a long way to boost their yield and income.

“You have to remove debris and unwanted beans from the dried beans. If this isn’t done properly, the cocoa beans will be rejected at the depot. And so it’s very

important that farmers receive this screening and help. Most of the farmers are old. Others drink alcohol and that makes it impossible for them to be trained to pollinate themselves. This is a good idea. It will be helpful to the farmers”.

The National President for COCOSHE, Alhaji Alhassan Bukari who himself was screened and given eyeglasses, appealed to VisionSpring to extend the exercise to all farming communities in Ghana. He also urged all farmers to avail themselves for the exercise.

Similar screening exercises also took place at the Bonwire Kente Weaving Center and the Kejetia Central market, all in the Ashanti Region.

For Ella Gudwin, VisionSpring will continue to work until their goal of attaining a clear vision nation is realized.

“We believe that clear vision is something that everybody can benefit from, no matter your occupation or income."

"It’s not just about farming; it’s about everyday life. Everyone has a mobile phone these days…whether you are texting, checking the weather etc.; people need to be able to interact, be able to read their bible or help their children with their school work… vision is fundamental and it unlocks wellbeing and increases productivity and income.”