Agnes Korkor Ababio climbs onto the back of a pick-up truck and begins counting a stack of 64-kg cocoa bags heaped in the vehicle.
"It's more than 40 bags," she says in smiles as she clambers down from the truck, aided by an assistant.
Ababio is one of many cocoa farmers in the Suhum area of Ghana's eastern region that are hoping to see higher family incomes through increased farm productivity since industry regulator Cocobod launched a tree pruning pilot two years ago.
Following the scheme's success, Cocobod is set to scale up rollout of the program, thanks to a receivables-backed $600 million loan facilitated by the African Development Bank.
The 7-year tenor facility signed during the 2019 Africa Investment Forum held in Johannesburg last November, will finance large scale pollination of cocoa farms, expanded tree pruning, construction of warehouses, rehabilitation of declining plantations and increased local processing.
Ababio, 49, who had participated in the tree pruning pilot project, believes plans to roll out the scheme on a bigger scale will significantly increase output. "Before the pilot program, I was harvesting 17-18 bags from five acres, but after pruning and pollination, it's gone up sharply to 59 bags," she said.
With the loan, Cocobod will invest in value addition to raise domestic processing to 50% of locally produced cocoa, from around 30% currently. The organization also plans to scale up disease control, especially in the highly productive Western North area which loses around 200 tonnes a year to disease, its Chief Executive Joseph Boahen Aidoo said.
"The facility is coming at the time we need it most. It is crucial for the long-term sustainability of Ghana's cocoa sector, and for the country to increase its share of the multi-billion-dollar global cocoa and chocolate market," Aidoo observed.
Ghana, the world's second largest cocoa grower, and top producer Cote d'Ivoire, together account for nearly 70 percent of global supply. Aidoo said around 50% of the loan will go toward rehabilitation of cocoa farms.
Ccobod regulates the cocoa industry in Ghana and assists farmers with farming methods and tools that improve husbandry and yield. With the new investment, the country projects that output will exceed 1 million tonnes, up from a yearly average of 850,000 tonnes.
Lawrence Tetteh, a 52-year old farmer in the Tafo area, said news of the deal signed in Johannesburg last year motivated him to expand his acreage. "I believe it bodes well for our livelihoods - I don't need anyone to tell me of the potential, I see it."
Ghana's cocoa sector employs some 800,000 rural families and earns about $2 billion in foreign exchange for the West African country annually.