In this section, we trace the travel of pruning from the research site, through manuals to the extension site and through extension delivery activities to the farming site. We focus on site-specific enactments, levels of inscription and the unpacking of affordances of the practice as it travels.
Pruning at the research site
At the research site, researchers and agronomists showed that diverse types of pruning exist for different purposes. Formation pruning is conducted on young cocoa trees to adjust the height of the first jorquette and to create desirable shape during establishment; structural pruning is done to shape the canopy of matured cocoa trees to a desired size and architecture; sanitation pruning involves the removal of diseased and unnecessary branches, chupons, epiphytes, mistletoes and mummified pods (Opoku-Ameyaw et al. 2010; David 2011). The agronomists we interviewed highlighted that pruning improves aeration, reduces pests and diseases, and improves light capture and efficient nutrient use, all of which enhances productivity. However, while formation and structural pruning primarily give good tree shape, sanitation pruning improves tree health and reduces pests and diseases.
Govindaraj and Jancirani (2017) highlighted that pruning’s effect on productivity depends on how much biomass one removes from the tree during pruning, among other factors; they distinguished between deep/heavy (30%), medium (20%) and light (10%) pruning. Asare et al. (2018) assert that removing more than 25% of tree canopy can potentially starve the tree and be detrimental to its growth. Govindaraj and Jancirani (2017) considered medium pruning as having the greatest effect on pod attributes. Agronomists indicated that the main branches of cocoa trees carry pods. Accordingly, one needs to carefully consider if and what main branches should be cut to avoid negative effects on pod-bearing.
The agronomists further indicated that farm-specific conditions determine tree response to pruning. These conditions include the presence or absence of shade trees, soil fertility status and microclimate. They specified that cocoa trees live and interact with other shade trees. Thus, light capture for productivity enhancement, for instance, depends on the mutual shading of cocoa trees and that of other shade trees (Govindaraj and Jancirani 2017). For pest and disease reduction, while pruning’s effect on improving sunlight penetration can prevent black pod disease (Opoku-Ameyaw et al. 2010), it can increase capsids that thrive in sunlight (Dohmen et al. 2018). Additionally, intensified rainfall, temperature changes and prolonged dry seasons influence trees’ response to pruning (Dohmen et al. 2018). The agronomists, therefore, concluded that pruning is a context-specific practice and must be situated in farm-specific conditions.
Agronomists mentioned that due to contextual specificities of pruning, one needs expertise in giving pruning recommendations to farmers. One agronomist opined that “both good and bad pruning can provide adequate sunlight in the farm”, but the “consequences of bad pruning is detrimental”, so having an “eye for pruning” is vital (Agronomist, Tafo, 9/9/19). They noted that expertise is particularly necessary for avoiding the dire consequences of pruning on tree health and productivity.
At the research site, pruning is used as a practice that consists of diverse methods and is used for diverse purposes and context-specific outcomes. The affordances of pruning as contained in this site acknowledge diversity in pruning types and different techniques for pruning. Its outcomes are also diverse, including increased productivity, balanced tree growth and yield, enhanced tree health and reduced incidence of pests and diseases. It also allows for a diagnostic capacity to access farm-specific conditions to situate the practice. The site constructs pruning as an open-ended script that allows extension workers and farmers to rewrite and localise it.
The travel of pruning to extension site through manuals
Manuals represent an interface of interaction between the research and extension sites. They embody abstract representations of reality constructed into words and illustrations through inscriptions for reference (Latour 1999). Through manuals, researchers are able to standardise information on pruning and enable it to travel to the extension site where officers can interpret and use it. Manuals constitute a level of inscription with potential implications on the affordances of pruning.
Manuals on cocoa cultivation in Ghana (Table 2) have had information on pruning since the 1980s and have typified diverse pruning types for diverse purposes since 2003. In illustrating pruning, however, information in the manuals concentrate on tree shape. The CABI and STCP manuals, for instance, focus on heavy/structural pruning in an eight-stage illustration sourced from the ACDI/VOCA SUCCESS project in Indonesia. The manuals present an unpruned tree as stage one, consider sanitation pruning as stage two and dedicate stages three to eight to pruning that results in a four-meter tall tree with three to four main branches and a funnel-shape canopy. The CRIG 2010 and CocoaSoils manuals on the other hand, portrayed the processes of conducting the diverse types of pruning. However, they also illustrate tree-shape before and after pruning, reflecting an emphasis on tree-shape in illustrations.
The manuals highlighted diverse benefits of pruning (Table 2). However, they gave credence to the outcomes of structural pruning. For instance, they state that “the best cocoa tree has one stem only and two or three main branches, with enough side branches and leaves to capture more sunlight” (STCP Manual 2011, p. 7; CocoaSoils Manual 2021, p. 27). The CABI and STCP manuals state that the productivity of trees pruned as illustrated is higher and underscore the importance of keeping such structure through maintenance pruning. The CRIG 2010 manual also notes that pruning provides shape to the plant and improves aeration and reduces incidence and spread of pests and diseases: these factors are essential for increasing productivity. The manuals accentuate the significance of structural pruning for improving productivity and tree health.
The manuals provide little to no attention to farm-specific contextual factors to consider when pruning. The information is focused on the cocoa tree and gives standard recommendations about which unwanted branches and materials should be pruned, when to prune and what equipment to use. The agronomists said that to counter the trade-off from standardisation, the ideal practice is for agronomists to train extension workers on the specificities and situatedness of pruning. However, they also said that such training rarely takes place; if it does, the information from the manuals is reproduced.
Although the inscription of pruning in manuals acknowledges diverse types of pruning, illustrations emphasise structural pruning and give credence to its outcome. The specificities and situatedness of pruning also filter into standard recommendations. Thus, the affordance of pruning as consisting of diverse types for diverse purposes narrows. Its construction as an open-ended script that allows for localisation and associated diagnostic capacities for context-specific adaptation also fades.
Pruning at the site of extension services
At the extension site, extension officers specified the existence of formation, structural and sanitation pruning for diverse purposes including increased productivity, improved tree health and reduced pests and diseases. However, officers often described pruning with phrases such as desired tree-shape, 3–4 branches and funnel-shaped canopy. They used manuals as sourcebooks and their teaching and learning aids had illustrations of pruning provided in the manuals. The officers indicated that they gave pruning recommendations to farmers on what branches to cut, how to cut them, what time of the year to cut and what equipment to use as indicated in manuals or received in their training. However, few extension officers said that in addition to these standard recommendations, they considered local weather and soil conditions. These officers indicated that they gained this contextual insight from years of working with farmers and learning from their experiences. For the other officers with less experience, they relied on the manuals to provide them with pruning recommendations. These officers equated recommended pruning with illustrations in manuals.
The officers indicated that pruning is a key part of sustainability and certification schemes and Ghana Cocoa Board’s ongoing productivity enhancement programme. Certification schemes, for instance, specify pruning as mandatory practice. The checklist of one certification programme we examined showed that pruning is to be regularly conducted to obtain optimal tree structure and health. Officers trained farmers on recommended pruning as illustrated and, in some instances, trained other people to directly prune trees for farmers. A contract signed between one firm and farmers for direct pruning service showed that the farmers were appointing the company to structurally prune their farm, and this was a principal clause for defining breach of contract. Extension officers emphasised the importance of farmers adhering to recommended practice for their farms to pass certification audits and inspections.
At the site of extension, information in manuals is being reproduced in teaching and learning aids and is being translated into activities geared towards training farmers on recommended pruning as a key component of sustainability efforts. Pruning is treated as an inflexible and fixed recommendation. Its affordances reduce with regards to diversity and specificity, situatedness, contextual adaptability and context-specific diagnostic capacity. The practice becomes more selective and standardised, and dovetails with standard and certification schemes with related checklists and audits.
The travel of pruning to the farming site through extension delivery
Extension delivery is an interface of interaction between the extension and farming sites. Extension officers give information on pruning during extension activities and farmers interpret and use this information. Extension activities constitute a second level of inscription with potential implications for the affordances of pruning.
Varied extension delivery activities on pruning exist in Ghana (Table 3). These activities have fostered diverse interactions between extension officers and farmers. In the mass training we observed, the extension officer asked farmers what they knew about pruning at the beginning of the training. He then told farmers what pruning is, its importance and showed farmers how to prune on their farms. In the demonstration sessions, officers usually told farmers what the recommended practice is and started demonstrating it to farmers. At every stage of demonstration, officers explained why they cut a branch and invited some farmers to demonstrate what they had seen. Farmers asked officers to clarify further when what officers said or demonstrated deviated from what farmers knew or did. For instance, this included when officers cut branches having cherrelle and farmers thought that this would decrease yield, and when an officer said that pruning could increase yield by about 30% and farmers were sceptical about yield increase from pruning without fertiliser application.
Officers said that farmers had attended many training sessions and yet often did not adopt recommended pruning on their farms. One officer’s statement that “farmers find it difficult to understand what we say in trainings; they need to see us demonstrate it” (Private extension officer, Nyinahin, 21/5/19) suggested a need for demonstration sessions. However, they also noted that farmers were not convinced with what they had seen in demonstration farms. “They [farmers] think the effect of pruning cannot be just a result of pruning” (Public extension agent, Adjoufua, 1/11/18), “…they [farmers] think we do some extraordinary treatments to the farm” (Private extension agent, Asankragua, 6/4/19). Officers specified that the ideal situation was for farmers to receive recommended pruning on their individual farms.
Coaching and gang pruning occurred on farmers’ farms (Table 3). In these activities, some farmers showed active resistance to recommended pruning due to perceived detrimental effects to cocoa trees. Farmers and officers spent a considerable amount of time discussing their distinct positions on what, how and why to prune. Officers explained their position using their knowledge on recommended pruning while farmers gave contextual information on their farms to explain their position. In some instances, they reached consensus. For instance, when farmers appreciated coaches’ or pruners’ reasons for what and how to prune, or when coaches or pruners were also farmers and appreciated the farm owners’ basis for wanting the trees pruned differently.
In some instances, there was no consensus. Officers, however, cajoled farmers into accepting recommended pruning to enjoy the full packages of intervention, which included spraying and hand pollination. In other instances, farmers grudgingly accepted recommended pruning so they were able to pass certification inspections. In a gang pruning activity, for instance, one farmer said “I am only accepting this [officers recommended branches to cut], because you said my farm will not pass certification if I do not cut these branches” (Observation 5, Manse, 14/5/19). Officers highlighted that they had to ensure that farmers pruned as recommended to be able to meet internal control measures and subsequently pass certification audits.
In other instances, farmers refused to allow trained pruners to prune as recommended. Farmers indicated that it was risky to allow pruners who do not understand how cocoa trees behave to prune branches that would reduce yield or kill the tree. Pruners, on the other hand, said farmers were obstructing their work, and failure to prune as recommended implied that they did not prune well and could not justify their actions to internal control officers who would inspect the farm afterwards. To these pruners “it is better to label farms as not pruned than not well-pruned” (Trained pruner, Amoamang, 12/3/19). Officers expressed displeasure about farmers’ non-adherence to recommended pruning. They thought that “farmers should be able to sacrifice and prune their farms” to reap the benefits (Private extension officer, Accra, 14/8/18).
The extension delivery methods had different underlying rationales and settings (Table 3), so fostered different interactions. However, the delivery approach focused on transferring recommended pruning to the farming site. This second level of inscription through extension activities dovetails into certification schemes and interventions that involve inspections and audits. This reinforced inscription in manuals that are carried out in the extension site consisting of reduced affordances in terms of diversity and specificities, situatedness, contextual adaption and context-specific diagnostic capacities. Pruning was promoted as an inflexible package with standard recommendations.
Pruning at site of farming
On the farming site, farmers indicated that cutting unwanted branches has been part of their management practices for decades. They said: “we cut the downward looking branches so that it will be easy to walk through the farm” (Interview 3, Amoamang, 12/3/19), “my farm became too dark [shady] and wet [damp] so I cut some of the branches” (Interview 6, Benchema, 8/4/20) “I cut the dead branches so that insects cannot hide in them” (Interview 11, Nyinahin, 20/4/20). According to farmers, they did this to improve sunlight penetration and prevent dampness and its influence on pests and diseases. The farmers however, described the cut branches as slim, weak, tiny, downward looking, diseased or dead.
Farmers indicated that although cutting unwanted branches is an old practice, they did not refer to it as pruning. For these farmers, the use of the term ‘pruning’ by extension officers and its promotion as a recommended practice referred to the type of pruning that centred on shaping the structure of the tree. Farmers indicated that cutting ‘big branches’ and opening up the canopy ‘too much’ could lead to dire consequences. Some farmers recounted yield reduction resulting from cutting main branches. They cited factors such as the rains did not come early, the sun was too much, and I did not apply fertiliser to identify stresses in tree response to pruning they experienced. While some farmers had experienced these adverse effects themselves, others had learned from the experiences of other farmers. They highlighted the importance of learning from the mistakes as much as the successes of other farmers concerning pruning.
The farmers highlighted the potential of extension officers’ way of pruning on nutrient maximisation and its positive effect on productivity. They explained this using a bowl of food scenario they had learned during training. They said that a bowl of food (nutrients) could feed less people (tree branches) to work more satisfactorily (more productively) than more people. While they acknowledged this, they showed that farms are not the same, and even in the same farm, different soil conditions exist. One farmer narrated:
It is important to consider the type of land on which the cocoa is planted so that the trees do not die after pruning. Some trees look like they are dying during the dry season, and it is dangerous to prune them. There is a farm on the road to my farm, the land is hard and cracks during the dry season. They [trained pruners] pruned that farm last year and the cocoa trees have been struggling since then. Anytime I pass by, I tell myself that this woman should not have allowed these pruners to destroy her farm (GD 4, Domeabra 15/3/19).
According to the farmers, deciding what to cut and how to cut unwanted branches involves considering soil fertility levels and the ability to apply fertilisers or not, the slope of the land and depth of top soil, rainfall and temperature variability, the presence of shade trees on the farm and the position of such trees in relation to cocoa trees. To these farmers, the composite task of managing and maintaining trees involves assessing sunshine and humidity in the specific location as well as age and status of the tree before deciding what and how to cut unwanted parts. It involves diagnosing the status of the tree situated in the farm and selecting appropriate recipes for ensuring yield. At the site of farming, pruning is carried out as a situational practice that one learns by doing and with context-specific factors to consider.
The travel of a GAP and its effects
The above traces the vertically coordinated travel of recommended pruning through the agricultural research value chain embedded in the operational cocoa chain. Tracing the travel indicates that the affordances of pruning reduced as it moved from research to extension to farming site. The rich but placeless knowledge of scientists recognised a variety of pruning practices that could be used under different circumstances and for multiple purposes. However, inscription in manuals, a necessary step for making the GAP mobile, entailed setting a standard for pruning and increasingly gave weight to a single pruning technique. This move towards standardisation and a strong focus on promoting structural pruning materialised in the step translating pruning into recommendations and guidelines used and unpacked in the extension site and was reinforced by the anchoring of extension delivery in certification programmes.
The result of making pruning mobile is that the practice of pruning that arrives in the farming site is restricted and the multiplicity of options for use tailored to diverse conditions visible at the research site evaporated along the way. Refining and standardising the placeless knowledge of scientists and researchers on GAPs to travel to the sites of extension and farming requires levels of inscription. Much like Latour’s (1999) work on the travel of soil samples, pruning, which is a context-specific art, becomes movable through inscription processes in the manuals that standardised it. These inscription processes amplify the standardisation and relative universality of the art; however, they reduce their locality, particularities, materiality and multiplicity (Latour 1999, p. 71). While these inscriptions are necessary to make the package mobile, they influence the content and affordances of the package and limit potential options for use (Glover et al. 2017). This unintended consequence of making GAPs mobile has implications for connecting pruning as a GAP to farmers’ repertoires.