At the World’s Cocoa Conference in Amsterdam it was widely put forward that many young people in West Africa – where 70% of the world’s cocoa is grown – see no future in cocoa growing.
This presents a dilemma for the chocolate industry since the average age of a cocoa farmer in West Africa is 50-years-old, while life expectancy in the region is 60 years.
“In 10-15 years to come if you have those farmers with an average age of 51 or 52 - these are old farmers perhaps retiring or maybe no more. You can imagine what would happen if you don’t have a lot more young people who are energetic and don’t have the knowledge,” said Vincent Frimpong Manu, Ghana program manager for supply chain advisor Solidaridad.
We spoke to two farmers at the conference – young and old – who explained why young people saw no future in cocoa growing and offered their perspectives on what the industry could do.
Low pay for hard work
Kwame Asa Ofori, a 65-year-old Fairtrade cocoa farmer from Ghana, said: "When you mention cocoa a lot of people think you're doing well. On the contrary, us in the villages we know that it's tedious, it's drudgery."
“The price for a bag of cocoa - and reaching a bag of cocoa is by no means a small job - is 212 Ghana cedi, that's about $80. Before you get this $80 it takes you through hardships."
"You wake up in the morning and you have this old machete and you look at an area the size of a conference hall and you find it bushy. You bend down and keep whacking and using the cutlass for three hours and that’s your the day."
He said that those unable to carry out this work had to bear the additional cost of employing a younger person.
"You wake up in the morning and you have this old machete and you look at an area the size of a conference hall and you find it bushy. You bend down and keep whacking and using the cutlass for three hours and that’s your the day.”
"A 100g bar of chocolate on the street on Accra sells for about four Ghana cedis ($1.33) and a kilogram of cocoa sells for 3 cedis 92 pesewas ($1.31). You find a big disparity,” he said.
According to Kwame, a fairer price was needed to attract young people to the sector.
During a presentation at the conference, Jean-Marc Anga, executive director of the International Cocoa Organization (ICCO), traced the source of discontent in cocoa growing to two key events. In July 1977 cocoa prices reached their peak at $18,000 per metric ton (MT). But in 2000, the cocoa sector was liberalized meaning governments had to pull out of cocoa-related activities and concentrate on regulating the sector. Consequently, prices in November that year reached historic lows of $1,000 per MT.
Anga said that 2000 was the turning point. “Farmers came to the conclusion that it wasn’t worth it.” He said many farmers burnt their cocoa after refusing to sell it for a nominal amount. Farmers’ children realized there was no future in cocoa growing as their parents turned to other crops such as rubber and palm oil, he said.
Ghanaian cocoa farmer Joseph Yaw Bosompe has been among the few young people to enter cocoa growing in recent years. He inherited his farm from his grandfather and initially saw no real future in cocoa growing.
"At first I didn't see it that way [as a profitable business]. I was feeling that I have a cocoa farm but the actual income I got from it wasn't enough."
Many cocoa farmers are among the 2.1 billion people in the world surviving on $2 a day. "The average cocoa farmer has two hectares and will get around three bucks [per day] - I think the income is very low,” said Joseph.
The young farmer later received training from sustainable supply chain adviser Solidaridad and realized he could earn a living from cocoa growing while studying business management and administration on weekends.
"It has to be farming as a business. If young people see the opportunity to own land and be empowered to make their own decisions that's what's going to be the difference."
"At first it was highly labor intensive, but I've taken good agricultural practice getting on for five years so the cost of my labor has reduced to the minimum levels."
"At first I was growing only cocoa but last year Solidaridad introduced a cocoa livelihood project whereby we grow cassava for additional income and they have been training us for planting multiplication so when you multiply young plantings you add it to your income."
ICCO head Anga said that industry players needed to stop encouraging farmers to grow cocoa in competition with other crops and instead urge farmers to multi-crop to give them a more sustainable income that will keep them in the sector.
Access to land and credit
One change Kwame would like to see is advanced credit with low interest rates which would allow more people to engage in the industry and invest in their farms.
Isaac Gyamfi, director of Solidaridad Ghana, said that chocolate companies needed to invest to give farmers access to these services. Farmers do not have land titles and struggle to get access to loans in most producing countries.
“They can also concede a part of their margins so that the farmer gets a higher price, a remunerative price,” said Gyamfi. “Thirdly they need to dialogue with the national systems so that the price benefits and the increases actually trickle down to the farmer and industry can do that through engagement with government."
Seeing is believing
Joseph said that his friends originally saw cocoa farming as an unprofitable venture for older people who had come back to the villages after retiring from a government job in the city.
“But now they have seen that if you start early you can earn more - only if you take it as a business and you put the necessary mechanism in place - so right now they have interest in cocoa farming."
Solidaridad’s Vincent Frimpong Manu said: "People talk about attracting youth but you don’t see critical, practical intervention really targeting the young people to go into it - but it's a key sustainability issue for the future."