Reaching farmers – how Joyce Iponja is helping to empower cocoa growers in Tanzania

How to give farmers in remote places better access to supplies of seedlings? An initiative in Tanzania is bringing together cocoa farmers with people from local communities in order to improve the distribution of cocoa seedlings and enhance livelihoods. The program is part of Barry Callebaut’s sustainability strategy ‘Forever Chocolate’ and is driven by its direct sourcing organization Biolands in cooperation with KIM’s Chocolates.

Improving access to cocoa seedlings and providing agricultural training are two key priorities at Biolands – Barry Callebaut’s direct sourcing and farm services organization. Biolands works closely with farmers to improve cocoa quality and yields, as well as farmer livelihoods. As part of a joint initiative with Belgian chocolate maker KIM’s Chocolates that began in Tanzania in 2016, Biolands has pledged to distribute at least 100,000 cocoa seedlings per year. For the 2016/17 season, the distribution of 140,000 seedlings is planned, depending on the demand from farmers.

In Tanzania, Biolands has four nurseries across the Kyela and Busokelo districts where cocoa seedlings are nurtured before being delivered to the cocoa farms for planting. However, some cocoa farmers live in remote areas and do not necessarily have the means to travel to the nurseries. That is why at Biolands seedlings are not only supplied on site at the nurseries but are also brought directly to farms in the region.

Sharing know-how

To extend its distribution network, Biolands is involving people from local communities. One of them is 32-year-old Joyce Iponja. She has trained as a senior nursery assistant at Biolands’ nursery in Kyela and now belongs to a dedicated team that visits farmers. The team not only supplies seedlings from the nursery but also shares valuable know-how on how to best plant and care for the seedlings – including aspects such as spacing, shade and irrigation.

Like Joyce Iponja, most of the distributors come from local farming communities and families in Kyela, and they have been working in Biolands nurseries for a number of years. Their participation in the seedling distribution program provides them with an additional source of income.

As the distribution team also aims to reach out to cocoa farms in areas that cannot be reached by car a wheeled handcart has been constructed at Biolands to facilitate this process. The cart can transport up to 200 young plants at a time and is helping to improve access to cocoa seedlings – particularly for elderly farmers who are less mobile.

Joyce Iponja (aged 32), senior nursery assistant and a member of the cocoa seedling distribution team, on her way to visit farmers in the Kyela district of Tanzania.

Tackling farmer poverty

Limited access to planting materials, poor farming practices and ageing trees are among the main challenges that need to be overcome in order to increase cocoa farmers’ income. This represents one pillar of Barry Callebaut’s recently launched sustainability strategy ‘Forever Chocolate’, with the goal of lifting over 500,000 farmers out of poverty by 2025. The seedling distribution program in Tanzania forms part of this strategy. As Frank Neumann, Country Manager of Biolands, explains: “This initiative is one of several steps we are taking on our commitment to tackling farmer poverty. To increase farm productivity and farmers’ income, we are following an ambitious replanting strategy. The replacement of ageing trees and replanting require more seedlings to be grown and distributed. By giving farmers access to seedlings and coaching them on good agricultural practices, we enable them to develop their business.”

source: Barry Callebaut