Cocoa production is critical to the health of Ghana’s economy, however, crop yields are often poor compared to its capacity. Young people are perceived as important for revitalizing Ghana’s cocoa production. This report explores the role of young people in cocoa farming and examines some of the factors preventing them from becoming farm owners.
Ghana was the world’s largest cocoa producer in the 1970s, however, production per tree had already peaked by that stage and were beginning to decline. In the 1980s and 1990s, farmers managed to increase cocoa production by clearing new land for farming. However, today there is limited virgin land available to establish new cocoa farms and farmers are working on soil with decreased fertility. Furthermore, 25% of cocoa trees are now around 30 years old with no capacity to increase productivity. The only way to increase Ghana’s cocoa production is to improve productivity on existing farms, which requires substantial capital investment.
One of the primary barriers to young people becoming cocoa farmers is the negative general perceptions harboured by older farmers (young people are perceived by older farmers as being lazy and disinterested). Young people begin working with their parents on cocoa farms at a very young age; despite this, their experience is often not recognized nor fully appreciated.
Many young people are interested in starting their own cocoa farms, but there are several challenges to overcome, including: 1) access to good quality land (fertile land is mainly held by older farmers and the younger generation won’t inherit it until they are in their 30s); 2) access to finance (starting or revitalizing a cocoa farm can be capital intensive); 3) access to education (there is currently insufficient agro-economic education or skills-training for young farmers, which limits them in setting up their farm successfully); 4) lack of role models (there are few role models in cocoa farming, which discourages young people from becoming cocoa farmers). Additionally, the position of young women is further complicated by perceptions that cocoa farming is not a suitable occupation for women due to their limited on-farm experience and household responsibilities.
Opportunities for both youth and policymakers to overcome the challenges outlined above can be found in the rejuvenation of the sector. The primary focus in rejuvenating cocoa production must be on the rehabilitation and replanting of cocoa farms. The most pressing issue is access to land, and projects to expand land access must be supported by policymakers. Making saving products and credit schemes available to young people will also permit them to benefit from opportunities in the sector. Lastly, there are opportunities for young people to find jobs in extension services for cocoa farms, however, they will need sustained support from policymakers in order to take advantage of such opportunities.