Agricultural experts have identified poor soil fertility as the most critical factor that has contributed to a decline in productivity in the cocoa industry in Ghana and the sub-region.
They said the knowledge gap on good crop nutrition and proper management of cocoa trees were fast militating against productivity in the cocoa industry.
The Cocoa Soils Programme, an internationally recognised effort geared towards promoting sustainable intensification of cocoa production while avoiding deforestation in West Africa, has consequently held a capacity-building forum for 27 cocoa extension agents to help address the challenge.
The forum was organised by Cocoasoils Programme at Sefwi Bekwai in the Western North Region.
Cocoa soils is funded by the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation and led by the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture, Wageningen University and Research and the Sustainable Trade Initiative (IDH).
The extension agents were selected from Bibiani, Asawinso, Wiawso, Bekwai, Anwiaso, Nyinahin, Asempaneye, Debiso and Essam in the Sefwi-Wiawso Municipality in the Western North Region.
It was aimed, among others, to train the extension agents on integrated soil fertility management and good agricultural practices for increased productivity of cocoa farms and improved livelihood for cocoa farmers.
It was meant to build the capacity of the extension agents to pass on the latest knowledge on integrated soil fertility management (ISFM) and good agricultural practices (GAP) to cocoa farmers across the country.
The extension officers were trained in composting, integrated pest and disease management, pruning, fertiliser application, assessing cocoa farm productivity, and the various ways to bring organic matter to the farm.
The integrated soil fertility management is a stepwise approach that combines improved planting materials, canopy cover management, and pest/disease control with targeted fertiliser application to increase cocoa complemented by use or re-use of locally available organic nutrient sources, appropriate intercropping and shade trees to increase the fertility and subsequently, the productivity of cocoa farms.
The Project Coordinator for Cocoasoils, Dr Richard Asare, said his outfit was working with scientists from public and private sector partners to develop innovative technologies on ISFM and GAPs.
He said the programme would use the extension channels of private sector partners such as Olam, Mondelez, Cargill, Kuapa Kokoo, Tulip Cocoa, Olatunde International, Sucden, and Rockwinds to disseminate the technologies that would be generated for farmers in Ghana, Cameroun, Côte d'Ivoire and Nigeria.
In Ghana, the project has trained 139 extension agents from Kuapa Kokoo, Cargill, Mondelez, Olam and Rockwinds on ISFM and GAPS.
These extension agents have gone on to train 2,728 cocoa farmers across the country on the best practices to improve the productivity of their farms without moving into the forest to search for fertile lands.
The project has trained a total of 486 extension agents of private partners and 63,253 cocoa farmers in Ghana, Cameroun, Côte d'Ivoire and Nigeria.