Ghanaian cocoa farmers remain trapped in poverty


In Sefwi Asiekrom, Ghana, in November 2022.

It’s a daily ritual. At dusk, 19-year-old Ahwah and her younger sister Saoude make their way along a narrow dirt track toward a stagnant water hole at the bottom of a small valley in southwestern Ghana, not far from the village of Sefwi Camp. The two girls are equipped with gigantic 30-liter jerry cans, which they hastily fill and place on their heads before setting off on a steep hill covered with cacao and frake trees. “This is the water we use for all our needs,” said Ahwah, wincing under the weight of the load that evening.

After a 15-minute walk, they reached their family home, a spartan construction of dried earth with a corrugated metal roof, surrounded by chickens and a few goats. They live here meagerly with their parents, five sisters, and a newborn, away from the farming community. They are almost forgotten, at the bottom of the cocoa production chain controlled by Barry Callebaut, a Swiss company and a world leader in chocolate products with annual sales of around €8 billion.

In the shade of the banana trees, Ahwah’s mother, Salamata, folded up the bamboo mat on which the beans had been drying all day. The life of Ahwah and her family is punctuated by cocoa production, tree care, and pod cutting. “In the morning, after tidying up the house, we prepare the meal before going to the farm. Then we help out wherever we’re asked.”

Salamata was worried. The five hectares of her farm are producing less and less. Aging trees, fungal diseases, and soil impoverishment are particularly affecting Ghana. “This year, I’m only going to be able to produce about ten bags [of cocoa],” she said. For Salamata, it’s a meager harvest.

In 2022, the price of a 62.5-kilo bag was set at 800 cedis, around €68, by Cocobod, the Ghanaian government body responsible for regulating the cocoa market. According to the non-profit group Fairtrade International, this is 42% less than the living wage a producer family should receive to meet its basic needs: Food, water, health, transport, and education.

According to Oxfam, the net income of Ghanaian farmers fell by 16.4% between 2020 and 2022. The 21% increase in the price of cocoa bags “at the edge of the field” decided by Cocobod in 2022 was not enough to offset the effects of Ghana’s inflation (+52% in 2022) and soaring input costs, starting with fertilizers, only some of which are subsidized by the government. “We have received almost no aid to buy fertilizers and not even a premium for our production,” Salamata said.

Living wage

Salamata sells cocoa to Nyonkopa, one of the 27 trading companies licensed in Ghana and owned by Barry Callebaut. The company claims its cocoa supply from Ghana via Nyonkopa is “100% traceable and 100% sustainable.” To sell to Nyonkopa, a farmer needs, in theory, to participate in a sustainability program that enables access to a premium, which many farmers claim amounts to around €1 per bag. Some say they do not receive the payment.

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