TGCC Ghana Final Report and Lessons Learned: Improving Tenure Security to Support Sustainable Cocoa

Worldwide, forests are being lost at an alarming rate, driven by the expansion of internationally traded commodities. In response, companies are making efforts to reduce and eliminate deforestation from their supply chains. In 2016, Hershey’s and Ecom Agroindustrial Corp (ECOM) began collaborating with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID)-funded Tenure and Global Climate Change (TGCC) Program that helped leverage private sector funding to address land and tree tenure constraints that inhibit cocoa productivity and contribute to deforestation around smallholder cocoa farming in Ghana. This work resulted in an assessment and recommendations for a future pilot, captured in the report Land and Natural Resource Governance and Tenure for Enabling Sustainable Cocoa Cultivation in Ghana. Over the 11-month period from February to December 2017, USAID implemented a pilot in Nyame Nnae, a cocoa farming community in the Asankrangwa district of Ghana with implementing partners Tetra Tech and Winrock International. The pilot had four specific objectives:

  1. Increase tenure security of smallholder cocoa farmers through clarifying and documenting the rights of landholders and tenants that discourage removing old cocoa trees under stranger tenancy (abunu) contracts.
  2. Promote the increase in carbon stocks in cocoa farms over the long term by explaining new Forestry Commission policy on tree tenure and documenting tenants’ and landlords’ beneficial interests in shade trees.
  3. Replant old, unproductive cocoa farms to increase productivity over the next five to 10 years. This requires developing a financing model to replant old cocoa farms and provide extension services to farmers.
  4. Develop lessons and recommendations for the Government of Ghana, Ghana’s Cocoa Forest REDD+ Program, the World Cocoa Foundation, Tropical Forest Alliance (TFA) 2020 partners, and others working on related topics with smallholder farmers that will allow the pilot to be replicated and scaled up over time.


The pilot focused on improving tenure in Nyame Nnae community in the Western Region. Nyame Nnae was chosen to carry out a tenure intervention based on community interest and factors like a high proportion of non-indigene farmers and a clear land constraint. There are three main customary interests in land in Nyame Nnae: customary freehold (9 percent), asideε (migrant farmer freehold – 45 percent), and abunu (46 percent). The project captured and documented land and tree rights as practiced; it did not try to convert these customary rights into statutory rights. The project engaged legal consultants to draft three customary land rights templates based on these prevailing customary norms. A local organization, Landmapp, was subcontracted to complete mapping of community boundaries and individual cocoa farms and store electronic records. ECOM’s extension agents were trained in tenure principles and provided with training materials and simple, laminated fact sheets to help them resolve land disputes, monitor and assess tenure in their field work, and augment their suite of future trainings. In total, the boundaries of Nyame Nnae community were mapped and 190 farms were surveyed and tenure rights documented, with 37 percent held by women.

During the life of the intervention, the importance of clarifying landowner and tenant relationships through customary contracts emerged as equally important in documenting tenure terms as having a mapped document for the landowner. Clear dispute resolution structures were found to exist within the Asankrangwa stool, though community members were not always well informed about their rights. The team provided training on dispute resolution to community elders, emphasizing disputes and negotiations relating to cocoa farm rehabilitation and negotiated abunu arrangements. At the end of the project, 92 percent of those who received documentation thought it was worthwhile. Community members added that the process provided additional security and information on farm size, and will help reduce conflict. The primary factors that informed farmers’ participation in the project included interests in documentation of land to secure and protect their future investments and to aid in accessing financing options; a desire to know more about site planning; and, interest in farm management more broadly.


Current law vests rights to naturally occurring trees with the state, which expropriates all rights over timber exploitation and vests them in the government. Despite this legal framework, it became clear that the community views tenure over trees and forest products through the lens of customary land rights, even if this differs from statutory law. The community does, however, distinguish customary rights over trees from timber trees, for which control is vested in the Forestry Commission by formal law. The community views timber trees as being owned by the government.

The interplay between government policy, timber extraction, and planting trees laying claim to land ownership creates perverse outcomes: planted trees are pulled up by customary land holders; land disputes emerge between tree planters and customary land holders; and, there are disincentives to plant commercial trees. While these conflicts were not directly observed within Nyame Nnae, the Forestry Commission is aware of challenges with the current law and policy. New policy approaches are being considered and tested. Upon analysis, many aspects of the tree registration system proposed by the Forestry Commission were still in flux and do not go far enough, as the system maintains the distinction between planted and naturally occurring trees. This distinction causes confusion and scope for abuse, as failure to register planted shade trees may result in de facto treatment as naturally occurring and therefore subject to state expropriation. The administrative costs of registering trees are also steep. The team decided not to test the draft tree tenure registration documentation because of reservations about the proposed policy changes, their long-term efficacy, and the potential to create confusion.


Farm level rehabilitation was carried out on a total of 50 ha spread over 71 self-selected farms and was financed by private sector partner ECOM. Ten of these farms were within Nyame Nnae community (four women and six men) and 61 (12 women and 49 men) were spread across multiple different cocoa communities where ECOM operates. To help ECOM implement agroforestry practices in farm rehabilitation, 20 ECOM extension agents participated in TGCC’s training of trainers agroforestry course.

To better understand how to finance rehabilitation, ECOM and TGCC developed a financial model for cocoa farm rehabilitation. Under the model ECOM rehabilitates and manages all farm activities over three years while the farmer learns farm rehabilitation and management techniques and diversifies their income with cash crops. This approach differs from using model farms, which have had mixed success. In this model a farmer provides three acres of old cocoa trees to be cleared and has additional cocoa farms elsewhere, which will continue producing cocoa. Two of the three acres are replanted with cocoa, shade trees (if needed), maize, and plantains, and the third acre is planted with maize and plantains only. Plantain and maize is then planted with two crops of maize and one of plantain harvested per year. The models show that ECOM’s rehabilitation and management costs are repaid over three years, and a profit share or royalty payment paid to the farmer provides enough cash for the farmers to continue activities once ECOM no longer provides support.


The pilot overall, as measured by beneficiary satisfaction, was highly successful. Both men and women farmers, landlords and tenants, and leaders of Asankrangwa stool voiced their appreciation and satisfaction with accomplishments. The following list of final lessons and recommendations were drawn from the pilot:

  1. Build understanding of the relevance of land tenure and identify feasible interventions for private sector interests. Partners need to be provided with targeted and actionable information to participate.
  2. Time is required to fully apply learning and adaptive management principles. While lessons were learned in the pilot, they could not always be integrated into practice due to short timeframes.
  3. Document rights in advance of land disputes, where possible. Clarifying tenure can help to avoid disputes more easily than resolving disputes.
  4. For effective land rights documentation, focus on process, engagement and documenting the status “on the ground.” Rather than forcing customary rights to be converted to statutory leaseholds, use formal legal contracts to document the existing customary rights of farmers.
  5. Formalizing land rights in Ghana requires more than simply documentation. Engagement of the National House of Chiefs was important to codify land rights in traditional areas and discuss the relationship between indigene and stranger farmers.
  6. Food security and nutrition is an issue for cocoa farmers. Rehabilitation efforts must consider food security needs, particularly during the years before cocoa trees start producing.
  7. The Nyame Nnae pilot site is only one of multiple theories of change linking property rights to deforestation in Ghana. This pilot lessens the threat on a nearby gazetted forest and increases incentives to reduce deforestation of remnant and secondary forests within the community that now set in motion can be monitored in future years. Options for reducing deforestation at a larger landscape lever were identified and scaling up will need to demonstrate avoided deforestation impact.
  8. Not all smallholder farmers are equal; other rehabilitation pilots being tested are geared toward the privileged. The ECOM financial model can be sustainable, but will be difficult to scale up and reach poorer farmers without multiple plots or stranger farmers with insecure tenure.
  9. While documenting land rights was a success, tree rights documentation still needs to be considered. For farmers to fully benefit from their land rights, they need to have rights to all resources on their property.
  10. The project successfully demonstrated that a public-private partnership linking tenure documentation, alternative dispute resolution, community engagement, and financial modelling with cocoa rehabilitation was feasible. Cocoa companies welcome the addition of new services to their portfolio.
  11. Scalability remains a challenge. Wrapping the cost of documentation into cocoa farm rehabilitation should be explored in any future work.
  12. The government’s acceptance of formalization pilots is still a question. A wholesale mind shift that recognizes the need to build shade back into cocoa systems and improve productivity of cocoa on less land is starting to occur, but requires additional political will.
  13. Spend time on gender dynamics and social inclusion. Interventions must be designed so that community members better understand how women and different status groups engage within the community.
  14. A public-private model can be considered to help bear the costs of public goods. Private sector firms are offering services to their suppliers, and welcome the ability to work with public institutions and public policy.
  15. After all is said and done, consent of traditional authorities is the central ingredient for success. Traditional leaders need to be full partners in the process of documenting rights and should not just use the system to extract fees.

The generalized approach of using land administration, broadening access to finance, and assisting farmers with cocoa rehabilitation is broadly relevant to other geographies and commodities with adequate nuancing and tailoring to the context and constraints faced. There is a wealth of diverse land administration tools and approaches to draw upon, depending on the nature of tenure insecurity and financial constraints faced by small farmers. The approach is also broadly relevant for reducing deforestation although time is needed to determine the full impacts achieved. The GIS survey data collected by the pilot is broadly applicable to monitoring deforestation in the future with scaling, but further work would be required to determine how avoided deforestation impact could be measured and predicted.

Within this context, the setting has been established for ongoing efforts by the private and public sectors to develop a strategy for lowering cost and designing innovations that improve the livelihoods of Ghana’s cocoa farmers, promote sustainable cocoa cultivation that reduce deforestation pressures, improve the profitability of the chocolate industry, and provide consumers worldwide with high quality chocolate sourced from Ghana.