Poverty among cocoa farmers requires a coherent approach

Published on
December 10, 2020

There is no single remedy to improve the poor income position of cocoa farmers in Ghana and Côte d'Ivoire. A combination of interventions is needed, according to researchers from Wageningen University & Research in collaboration with the food company Mondelēz International.

An estimated 2 million cocoa farmers in Ghana and Côte d'Ivoire suffer from poverty. Both governments and the cocoa industry are developing initiatives to ensure that farmers can meet the essential needs of their families. However, a lack of coherence means that an effective approach is lacking. The gap between a decent family income and the actual family income is large: for both countries, farmers earn $5.21 billion less each year than is needed to cover food, health care, education and other essential needs.

Living Income Differential

Even if market prices for cocoa were to double, the income of only about 41% of cocoa farmers could be enough to cover the costs of food, health care and education. The majority of this group of farmers (24%) already earn a decent income even without price doubling. However, the majority of all households would hardly benefit because they produce few cocoa beans. Price increases are therefore not the remedy, although income support can be an important tool on the road to improvement. An example is the introduction of the Living Income Differential by the governments of Côte d'Ivoire and Ghana. This is an additional premium to the households of cocoa farmers. The supplement of $400 per 1000 kilos of cocoa comes on top of the price a farmer would otherwise receive.

Too little land, too few alternatives

An important underlying cause of poverty is that many cocoa farmers simply do not have enough land to produce enough cocoa beans to have a decent income. As a result, they are also unable to invest sufficiently in better farming methods. This does not alter the fact that one third of all farmers can benefit from better production methods if they are properly supported.

Another cause that puts a brake on the incomes of many households in Côte d'Ivoire and Ghana is the high dependence on cocoa. Farmers have few alternative sources of income: they earn an estimated 80-90% of their income from cocoa. Because they have few alternatives, farmers continue to produce cocoa, even at very low prices. Training courses for farmers who want to be less dependent on cocoa for their income seem to be useful: in Côte d'Ivoire, the income of participating farmers after one year was on average 12% higher than that of farmers who did not attend training courses. In Ghana the percentage was as high as 53%.

Landscape approach

The poverty problem has therefore many causes for which there is no panacea. The researchers advocate a coherent approach in which the governments of both countries, together with other parties such as consumers of cocoa, should clarify how each party can contribute to national strategies. The landscape approach can be a useful tool for coordinating interventions in specific areas. This approach stands for a strategy in which several parties from different sectors are brought together to develop solutions on different scales - from farm to regional or national scale. It is important that the dialogue with cocoa farmers and their communities continues unabated and that they are supported by solutions appropriate to their situation and future needs. The researchers conclude that by better sharing research data and lessons learned, the various parties can help each other better.