Bismark Kpabitey is a 33 year old dynamic agroforestry cocoa farmer from Ghana, where farmers typically earn $0.84 per day. Bismark has been practicing dynamic agroforestry for three years on seven acres to support his 16 family members. He sells his cocoa to Kuapa Kokoo, a Fairtrade-certified cocoa farmers organization.
In an interview with digital regenerative agriculture crowdfunding platform Grow Ahead, Bismark shares the story of how he discovered dynamic agroforestry and his vision for the future of agriculture in Ghana. We learn that, while deforestation is causing climate change in Ghana and making it increasingly challenging for farmers to predict when to plant their crops, dynamic agroforestry presents a regenerative solution that promotes food security and climate resiliency. Bismark warns that if Ghanaians continue to farm conventionally, soon the land will not be able to support its people. He calls for large-scale farmer training in dynamic agroforestry.
The actions of farmers like Bismark and support from the international community are what’s needed to transition agriculture from a cause to a solution in the fight against climate change.
How did you become interested in farming?
BK: Both of my parents are farmers, they’ve been in the farming system since I was born. It was through farming that I was able to obtain a Bachelor of Business Administration in Human Resource Management. I’m glad to be a farmer because I’ve seen how agriculture has helped me, my siblings, and family.
Not many people your age are farming. What is the trend with youth and farming in Ghana?
BK: Youth don’t get involved in agriculture here. The moment they complete high school, they leave their villages and go to big cities in search of jobs. Young people have the perception that those who are elderly or uneducated should farm. Not only the illiterate can farm, anyone can manage a farm. And if you manage your farm well, you become one of the richest people in your community. I’m hoping to provide an example that farming can be a great livelihood for anyone, regardless of age or education.
Tell us about agriculture in your region in Ghana.
BK: From what I’ve experienced, agriculture has changed considerably in the past 30 years. Output and productivity are decreasing unless you apply chemicals or other substances. Our forests are turning into grasslands. Our land is degrading. We are fortunate that a new system, dynamic agroforestry, is being introduced by our farmer cooperative Kuapa Kokoo.
When did you first learn about dynamic agroforestry?
BK: In 2015, the Sankofa project of Kuapa Kokoo, which provides support for agroforestry projects for farmers, came to our region and connected with my uncle John Narh. We visited their agroforestry demonstration plot, and we were inspired to do something similar.
When we first began installing our agroforestry system, we didn’t understand the approach—it was odd to us. As time went on, we began to understand and see the positive changes. We got to know that dynamic agroforestry respects every species. There’s nothing like a bad weed or an unwanted weed. We respect every plant.
Can you give us an example of that?
BK: With dynamic agroforestry, we leave the weeds to help with regeneration and stratification of the system. Stratification refers to the importance of having many levels of trees and crops to create a harmonious growing environment that mimics natural forests.
The amount of effort we apply in the field has reduced drastically. We used to weed more than 10 times per season when we were farming conventionally, and now we do it maybe 2-3 times per year. We used to consider elephant grass harmful, but in dynamic agroforestry, we cut it and cover the soil with it to hold in moisture for the crops during the dry season.
Why is agroforestry important for the future well-being of Ghanaian cocoa farmers, society, and the environment?
BK: On my farm, we are almost in our third year since starting dynamic agroforestry, and things are gradually starting to change. Dynamic agroforestry has enabled us to grow our own food in addition to generating revenue by growing cocoa. There are 16 of us in my family and we farm on seven acres, with that said we are able to get almost all of our food crops from our own field. Conventional farmers practice monocropping, and when their crop is finished, they have to go buy other food crops to support their families. We get ginger, tomato, eggplant, and most other perishable food crops from our field.
For society, we are helping change and regenerate a degraded system, showing people the importance of dynamic agroforestry. People are becoming interested in it and are understanding its essence.
And for the environment, we used to not plant timber trees in our cocoa fields but now--with dynamic agroforestry--we are trained to plant timber trees, which drawdown carbon to help our climate and will help in the future for other developmental projects or infrastructure. We are now regenerating the organisms in the soil to create new biodiversty, which makes healthy crops. We don’t burn the bush, and we don’t clear the land, both of which are better for the environment.
How is climate change affecting farmers in your region?
BK: We used to have seasons where we expected rain, but that is no longer the case. We know that these changes come due to environmental degradation and the way we treat our natural resources. Deforestation has really changed our local climate. Trees are cut down without replanting or afforestation and when dry season comes, the sun is dangerously hot for farmers and crops. If a farmer doesn’t have money for irrigation, they will suffer. We are coming to expect the unexpected, but it’s difficult to know what to plant and when because the rain and the sun are irregular.
What is the future of agriculture and how can the international community support smallholder farmers?
BK: If we continue with the conventional system, within 15-20 years we will have degraded land that won’t be able to produce much. This would really affect the people in this region. However, with dynamic agroforestry, even land that has lost almost all of its nutrients is able to re-establish its soil health for increased crop yields.
The future of agriculture depends on widespread adoption of regenerative, dynamic agroforestry. This could be supported by the international community with massive trainings for farmers. Trainings should be done in the communities, face to face, and teach the essence of changing from a conventional system into dynamic agroforestry that protects soil health long into the future.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
BK: With the little experience I’ve had in my recent transition to dynamic agroforestry, I advise neighboring farmers and everyone I get in touch with to practice this system so that it will help our community, our society, and the country itself.
Learn more about Kuapa Kokoo: https://www.kuapakokoo.com/
Learn more about Grow Ahead: https://growahead.org/