ONE and New African Agriculture Challenge: D’banj sets his sight on a Koko Farm. D’Banj meets Adam Yukubu, a cocoa farmer in Asempanaye, who tells him about the realities of African agriculture
It’s a few minutes past 7am on Thursday in the Ghanaian Capital, Accra. The arrival walkway of the Kotoka International Airport is somewhat busy, hosting the morning’s batch of passengers coming in from different destinations. Majestically walking through the main exit point is D‘banj, one of Africa’s most revered music stars, with an incredible following that is almost turning cult. Signed to Kanye West’s GOOD Music label, with international hit songs such as Oliver Twist and several multi-million naira endorsement deals under his belt, D’banj is arguably Africa’s hottest music property.
Flanked by his manager, Tony Nwakalor, and three others, he is met by officials of the campaign and advocacy organisation, ONE, who are hosting him for the next two days.
The purpose of D’banj’s visit to Ghana is to shoot a movie-style trailer for ONE’s 2014 Year of Agriculture campaign. The campaign will seek to push the African Union to commit to greater action and forward-looking strategic investments in smallholder farming. A formal case will be made during the upcoming AU Summit, in July 2014.
ONE’s activism is based on facts. If D’banj is to be a true champion of the cause, he needs to understand first-hand what farmers’ needs really are.
A two and a half hour journey to Asempanaye, a predominantly farming community in the Central Region of Ghana, sets the ball rolling for a fun-filled and activity-driven trip. It won’t be too long before he familiarises himself with the local townfolk, visiting some demonstration farms in the process. “Today, I am one of you… today, I am a farmer,” he tells a gathering of the village chief and his people.
He is soon joined by cocoa farmer Adam Yakubu, who takes him deeper into a cocoa farm to share with him the basic skills in harvesting cocoa. The trail leads them back to the village, where the popstar observes the process of treatment and drying of cocoa seeds before they are sent off to the processing plants. It is an eye-opener for D’banj.
Fondly called the Koko Master, the Nigerian icon shares a joke with one of the farmers about how he intends on changing his nickname to “Koko Farmer”. “I want to change my name to the Koko Farmer, yes. The Koko Master has become the Koko Farmer.”
D’banj engages some farmers in tête-à-têtes, prodding them on what life as a farmer means in the locality, and discovers that it is tough. Mostly a cocoa-farming community, Asempanaye is without running water and electricity. Though there are plans to extend those facilities to the community, the fact that they have had to live all these years without those basic needs speaks volumes of farmers’ livelihoods.
There is a way out of this, D’ banj believes. “Growing up, if I had the privilege of knowing how beneficial agriculture is, I would have appreciated it better,” he says. “But through my work with ONE, I now understand the issues better. I now know how much of a vehicle for growth it is. Farming is the mainstay of most economies across Africa, and I believe if the needed attention is given, we would not only fend for ourselves, but the rest of the world.”
D’banj adds, “You people here are the real breadwinners; you hold the heart of Africa and the world. You form not just the pillar, but also the foundations of the economy. Be proud of what you do.” To cap it all off, he settles down for a fun session with some children from the community, leading them in an improvised choreography of his hit song Oliver Twist.
On the long bumpy ride back to Accra, the reality of the visit settles in. “Imagine travelling like this to sell your produce! And this cocoa is used to make the hot chocolate we drink in our fancy restaurants in the city. And what happens when there is no rainfall? All those people suffer. We need to do more to support our rural farmers,” he reflects.
Back in the city, he cannot conceal his newfound enthusiasm for agriculture, even as he addresses a group of adoring young fans who accost him for autographs as he sits for supper. “Africa is the world’s most youthful continent, 65% of its total population consists of youth below 35,“ he tells them. “Guys, we need to take ownership of agriculture, for our own good. We need food, we need the jobs, and agriculture does not end in the farms. There are opportunities in the city to process cocoa into chocolate, to process cotton to clothing.” But the youths are having none of it. Look at you, they say, all blinged up. We want to be like you, not like farmers.And then an epiphany strikes. D’banj is well known for his successful line of KOKO businesses – these include Koko Mobile, Koko lounges, and the hit reality TV show, Koko Mansion.
He resolves: “Well then, I am starting a KOKO farm. If that is what it takes to convince young people that this is important, I must lead by example.”
As the sun sets in Accra, something about the fire in his eyes tells us that the Koko Farmer is serious about this new challenge.