In the West African country of Ghana, millions of dollars are being poured in to train the government and farmers to help pull the country out of poverty. Thousands of miles away in Fayetteville, Ark., University of Arkansas student Mike Norton applies his skills and experiences to supporting programs to increase crop yields and improve lives. Norton, a junior in the Dale Bumpers College of Agricultural, Food and Life Sciences, has recently been awarded a Student Undergraduate Research Fellowship grant to continue this research.
In the fall of 2010, Norton attended a lecture about development in low-income countries by the CEO of Hormel Foods. His interest in doing international work was sparked. Lanier Nalley, assistant professor of agriculture economics and agribusiness, helped Norton become affiliated with the World Cocoa Foundation, an organization for which the professor had previously done research. They found that the organization was in need of intelligent volunteers with the very skills that Norton possessed.
“We got connected with the board of directors and the president and that turned into the internship, which then turned into the actual research project,” Norton explained.
The following summer Norton traveled to Ghana and spent eight weeks doing an internship for the Monitor and Evaluation Team. The team documents progress being made from the money invested in the World Cocoa Foundation by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and private industry companies such as Hershey, Kraft Foods and Mars. The information is put into reports that are sent back to the organizations as well as prospective donors.
In the third year of the five-year Cocoa Livelihoods Program the team performed the first annual impact study. They visited 15 villages while traveling through the Western, Ashanti, Central and Eastern Regions, an area about half of the size of Oregon, collecting data about crop productivity.
“In Ghana, they have cocoa on their currency, and it’s a really important crop. It’s vital to the success of the agriculture economies,” Nalley said. Forty percent of the cocoa used by companies such as Hershey and Mars comes from two countries, the Ivory Coast and Ghana.”
Norton took the data they collected and put it in a data management system for the program. For his research project, using data from the impact study, he will analyze the difference between farmers who took part in the program versus those who did not.
“You want to get the benefits in cocoa yield and turn that into an actual dollar amount and that’s the benefit of the program, and then estimate the cost of the program with WCF figures, so we can do a cost-benefit analysis to figure out if the program is worth the money being invested into it,” Norton explained.
The Cocoa Livelihoods Program has three main instructional programs that teach the farmers how to take care of their crops and their business. Once the steps are complete, the farmers are able to get loans, in the form of “input” such as fertilizer, fungicide, herbicide and pesticide. The inputs increase the yield of their farm, which then increases the profit for the farmer.
“Just looking at this year’s data, if you look at the people who just did the first program, they were getting one to two bags an acre, but if you look at the people who did all three programs and were part of the micro-finance program — an additional program — their yield was six to eight bags an acre,” Norton explained.
For the farmers, the increased profit is not negligible. The increase could be as much as a few hundred dollars a year for each farmer. While in the United States an increase of a few hundred dollars a year is something that might not be noticed, in poverty-stricken countries such as Ghana, it can make a significant impact.
“I think that’s what’s neat about small projects like this. Small investments can increase yield by 15 percent or 20 percent , which if that’s $300 and you’re making $2000 a year, that’s 14 percent of your income. That’s a big increase. That pushes a lot of people from being below the poverty line to being able to send their kid to school,” Nalley said.
Forty percent of the cocoa used by companies such as Hershey and Mars comes from just two countries, the Ivory Coast and Ghana.