TGCC Assessment: Land and Natural Resource Governance and Tenure for Enabling Sustainable Cocoa Cultivation in Ghana

Forests are being lost at an alarming rate driven by the expansion of internationally traded commodities. A number of companies have responded by pledging to remove deforestation from their supply chains. This catalyzed the creation of the Tropical Forest Alliance 2020—a global public-private partnership aimed at reducing deforestation associated with commodities. Governments have also made commitments to reduce commodity-driven deforestation. In Ghana, cocoa produced by smallholders has been the leading agricultural product driving deforestation. In response, Ghana’s Intended Nationally Determined Contribution to the Paris Agreement on Climate Change specifically includes a 45 percent reduction of greenhouse gas emissions from the cocoa landscape.

Implementation of these supply chain commitments is lagging, as many companies and governments find that reducing deforestation is harder than expected. Production of deforestation-free commodities is hampered by lack of land use planning, tenure insecurity, weak policy implementation, lax law enforcement, and insufficient monitoring and accountability systems. Meanwhile, governments face an enormous challenge in balancing demands for higher cocoa production with plans to minimize deforestation, environmental degradation, and biodiversity loss. For example, the Government of Ghana wants to more than double cocoa output to 1.6 million tons by 2026 to increase farmer incomes and export earnings while simultaneously reducing deforestation and greenhouse gas emissions.

This report examines the interrelationships between land and tree tenure, cocoa productivity, and deforestation to identify interventions that can help Ghana meet its productivity and REDD+ goals. There are a number of important challenges. A large expanse of cocoa land is experiencing productivity decline. Small growers who once migrated to old growth forests to carve out new cocoa stands now suffer due to diminished remaining forests. Replacing old and unproductive cocoa trees offers potential to increase cocoa productivity while reducing deforestation, but tenure insecurity discourages landlords from allowing tenants to replant trees, while high costs of cocoa rehabilitation are prohibitive to resource-poor small farmers. Promoting shaded cocoa cultivations with timber and non-timber species helps promote sustainable cocoa cultivation and biomass, and on the margin could enable REDD+ payments through fair benefit sharing, but insecure tree rights discourage tree planting. While the Forestry Commission now allows farmers rights to shade trees, this is not widely known or clearly operationalized. Land and tree administration systems are disjointed, and co-sharing of benefits between tenant and landlord untested.

While the Lands Commission is interested in promoting commercial leases for industrial agriculture, the prevalence of a customary land regime promotes smallholder cocoa production. This has prevented large-scale capital investments that could overcome the high replanting costs. Customary tenure arrangements have also historically created incentives to carve out newly planted cocoa farms from secondary and old growth forests, thereby encouraging producers to expand their area rather than intensify production. Due to technical and financial constraints of customary institutions, landscape-scale governance and land use planning within rural cocoa areas rarely happens.

The assessment report concludes with concrete activities to strengthen land and tree tenure, and assist farmers with cocoa rehabilitation to increase productivity, rebuild forests with shaded cocoa, and reduce land use pressures at the forest fringe. Lessons learned would help inform sustainable cocoa production and Ghana’s Cocoa Forest REDD+ Program implementation as well as programs emphasizing other cocoa agroforestry systems (CocoaAction).

Presently, smallholder farms are stuck in an inefficient deadlock of contestations around ambiguous land and tree tenure terms that encourage farmers to keep unproductive cocoa farms in use. Unblocking this deadlock would help create a conducive atmosphere for farmers, landowners, and customary and statutory authorities to mediate and negotiate standard terms for existing land contracts to both improve productivity over the long term as well as reduce deforestation. Tenure reform is urgently needed that improves coordination between customary and statutory structures, reduces conflict between landlord and tenant, clarifies and documents rights in different contractual arrangements to strengthen tenure security, transfers rights over timber trees to landowning groups, channels payments from revenue-sharing schemes to cocoa farmers, and assists smallholders with cocoa rehabilitation to increase land use value.

Based on the land and natural resource governance and tenure assessment, an interlinked set of interventions are identified that encourage replanting old cocoa farms while reducing land use pressures on the forest fringe:

  • Strengthen Land Governance. Establish mechanisms to resolve tenure disputes; enforce land, tree, and farm rehabilitation agreements; and establish tenure-responsive land use planning to help address both problems of accountability and transparency and promote farm rehabilitation.
  • Clarify Rights to Land and Trees. Educate farmers and landlords on benefits of clarifying rights. Document land and tree tenure to help address problems of tenure security in land and trees that undermine incentives to invest in present cocoa lands and maintain shade trees on cocoa farms.
  • Invest in Cocoa Farm Rehabilitation. Engage cocoa buyers, Ghana’s Cocoa Board, and the chocolate industry to create financing plans for tree removal, inputs, and extension services to help overcome the high costs of cocoa farm rehabilitation facing resource-poor farmers. Some small farmers do not want to replant, and others will continue to move to frontier areas because that is what they have always done. But, for many other farmers in the cocoa sector, combining the commitment and wherewithal of cocoa companies, government support agencies, and even the timber industry in a public-private partnership with donor funding would help promote entrepreneurship (particularly among youth), increase cocoa productivity, establish valuable tree species, and improve environmental sustainability.

Some of these components could be implemented as a pilot via a public-private partnership between bilateral donors and the private sector in collaboration with the communities involved. This report puts forward a series of pilot interventions that mirror many aspects of the Government of Ghana’s Cocoa Forest REDD+ Program as well as the World Cocoa Foundation’s CocoaAction program.

The report was commissioned by the United States Agency for International Development through the Tenure and Global Climate Change task order under the Strengthening Tenure and Resource Rights Indefinite Delivery/Indefinite Quantity contract. It was prepared with input and support from Hershey’s and AgroEcom Ghana Ltd.—a subsidiary of Ecom Agroindustrial Corp—who supplies Hershey’s with cocoa from Ghana.