Mary Tetteh lives in Assin Abease, a cocoa-growing community in the Central region of Ghana, with her husband and ten children. Nine of her children are still in school with three of them in Senior High School (SHS) and the others in basic school. She supports her husband on the cocoa farm which, until mid 2017, served as her family’s only source of income.

In 2015, the International Cocoa Initiative (ICI) entered her community to implement a child labour elimination project under the Community Development Program. As part of this project, the Community Child Protection Committee (CCPC) in Abease were tasked with following up with mothers of children who were at risk of child labour or were already engaged in the practice. Mary was one of the women who fell into this criteria. ICI organised them into a group and supported them through rice farming. The women's group in Abease is one of the highest earning groups in the community development program, one that has continued to expand even after the project has ended. Mary, who is also the chairperson of this group explains the support they received.

“ICI collaborated with the Department of Agriculture in our district to assign an extension officer to our group. The Officer trained us on the good agronomic practices for rice farming. The department also supplied us with the breed of rice for planting, nets, fertilizers, agrochemicals and all the other things we needed for the farm. We applied the knowledge from the training and we have not regretted it. I now make enough money from this activity to care of my children in school.”

When asked about the strategy her group has adopted to curb child labour among members, she said:

“Our group focused on how we can help each other to effectively cultivate our farms without involving our children in child labour. We wanted them to stay in school so they can get a good education. We participated in the awareness raising sessions on child labour where we saw for ourselves the consequences our children suffered as a result of our negligence. We saw children who have been maimed and others with health issues like hernia. We decided to adopt the ‘Nnoboa’ system of farming as a counter measure to child labour and put in place strict rules against the practice. We take turns working on the farms of members at no charge. We move from farm to farm till all members have benefited from this practice."

“Before the training, we had little knowledge about rice cultivation. We used to just dump everything together without any plan. We planted a lot but reaped little," Mary continues, "All this changed when we had the training. When it came to the time for planting, we were given a bag of rice each to sow using the knowledge we have gained. Out of this, I harvested twenty-five bags. This made me realize that when I nurse and plant the seedlings in lines, it is more profitable than me dumping a handful of rice into holes on the field haphazardly.” Mary added, “My priority for engaging in rice farming was to get the financial means to support my children with their education. This is what I used part of the money from the sale of my first harvest for. I was able to buy school uniforms and books for all the children and luggage and provisions for those at the boarding house in the secondary school.” With a look of pride in her eyes, she continued:

“Another part of the money also went into roofing our new home. We used to be in an old house, it was small with a low ceiling and not enough room for the twelve of us. Now my family and I live in comfort because this house is bigger with more room.”

One key aspect of ICI's empowerment program is the organisation of a training in basic business and financial management for beneficiaries. This is carried out with the Business Advisory Center (BAC) at the assemblies we collaborate with. One of these trainings was organised in Abease for the members of the IGA group focusing on record keeping, personal savings and strategies for re-investment of profit. Mary tells us about how this training benefited the women in her group;

“The training we received in business principles taught us how to manage our farms as businesses and develop a savings culture. This has helped the group to save money at the bank. We use this fund to help ourselves by giving soft loans to members when necessary,” she continued. “We also started an adult education class to help us put into practice the business principles we received. Now I can read and write. I can calculate my cost of production and profit from the rice farm and so many people in our group. Whenever I go to the shed to sell my cocoa. I can monitor the scale to ensure I get a fair price.”

Mary goes on to share with us an achievement of her group:

”With the support of the Agriculture Officer, we were able to compete in the 2017 National farmers Day celebration in our district for the Best Community Based Organisation award. We won it easily. We received bags of rice, spraying machine, cutlasses and a certificate. this also went to improve our work. We are aiming to soon compete in the award at the regional level.” she happily added.