Some men are born men, others are born Krobo. The umbilical cord of their ancestors is buried on the hills, where they traditionally came from in the Eastern parts of Ghana. The "Mănyă” they called that region, to mean “one’s home.” And Mănyă comes from the word “Maonya” literally meaning, “keeping your mouth shut.” And being a Krobo, and a man of that soil, your very ethnicity comes with its salient demands. And Bismark Kwaku Kpabitey is a Krobo right down to his little toe. He understands this cultural york and he’s honoured to carry it with pride.
When he has to define what being a man is in that cultural context he simply says, “responsibility.” It’s about accountability. About duty. Duty to self, to your wife and family. Duty to the men and women who came before you, who knew better and who were defined by what they stood for; work hard, live honestly. “You have to work to feed your family. That’s what it means to be a man in my culture.” He says.
And work is a verb that he has understood very well all his life. Dad has always been a farmer, toiled in the lands to make a living for them. Mom was even a better farmer; dedicated and proud of her hands. “Cocoa has always been in my family.” He says. “I was born and grew up in Dodwa, greater Accra.” He says. That’s in Western Ghana. Three brothers and one sister. A loving household. He attended Valley View University in greater Accra - where he studied Human resource and management. But even though education was that hill of pride where eventually you go plant your flag, cocoa was calling him. Cocoa had been calling him since he was born and when cocoa calls you in Ghana, it’s hard to look away. So he put aside his university degree and stepped into the farm, which was going against the grain because nobody went into farming after attaining a university degree. How do you soil your hands when you had a sound education? You farmed because you didn’t have a degree. Not the other way round. But in cocoa, he was to realise later, he’d find all the education he needed. After his mandatory stint at the National Service, he moved to Bonsu Nkwanta, 200 kilometres south-west of Accra. He met a girl - a banker - and married her.
He has a small piece of land from where he grew cocoa. Nothing too large, just a half-acre. "Cocoa is an annual crop and so one has to know how to survive the rest of the year." He says. "So, in the same piece of land, I supplemented my income from cocoa by raising farm animals- fowls, goats and rabbits." He also grew yams and cassava. He was a farmer.
He realised that his farming wasn’t going to make him do what he wanted to achieve in life and by luck he heard of Fairtrade and what they were doing to help farmers be smarter farmers. So to speak.
“They visit villages, talking to farmers on how to work on the field with what they have. They advised us on what chemicals to use and what not to use. Organic was the way to go. They give us good rates for our cocoa and most importantly they give us premiums!”
Fairtrade Premiums is an extra sum of money, paid on top of the selling price that farmers or workers invest in projects of their choice. They decide together how to spend the Fairtrade Premium to reach their goals, such as improving their farming, businesses, or health and education in their community.
He attended seminars. He attended the West African Regional Fairtrade Convention in Yamoussoukro, Cote d'Ivoire in 2019. In the same year, he attended Fairtrade Africa's Maiden Continental Youth Convention in Nairobi, Kenya. "From these conventions, I realised that as a youth, I needed to take farming more seriously and make it sustainable, make it as a centrepiece of my life." He says. “I was glad to have attended the seminars because it opened my eyes to the immense opportunities farming offered. And so I put in more into my small farmer and it rewarded me handsomely.” He was growing as a farmer and as a man because soon he was a father to son.
"A big marker of success is building a house for your family." He says. So together with the wife, they started building a house with the proceeds of the cocoa. He’s yet to complete the house which is at the roofing stage. It’s a modest 4-master bedroom house. It represents everything he believes in, speaks into his aspiration as a Krobo, as a man. “You asked what being a Krobo means,” he says, “it means putting a roof over your family’s head.”