Cocoa production in West Africa, a review and analysis of recent developments

Cocoa production in West Africa, a review and analysis of recent developments

  • Seventy percent of the world cocoa production is produced by small holders in West Africa.
  • Cocoa production increased by fifty percent in the first decade of the 21st century.
  • Yields remained low because of extensive cultivation practices and old age of cocoa farms.
  • Large government rehabilitation and replanting schemes are undertaken.
  • Implementation of these schemes and higher cocoa producer prices offer scope for higher coca output from West Africa.
  • Climatic change and increased land use for food crops will negatively affect the cocoa output in the long run.
  • Conditions for sustainable coca production require major structural changes in the entire cocoa sector.

This paper reviews the present condition of cocoa growing in West Africa where some six million ha are planted with cocoa which provide about 70 percent of the total world production. Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana are the largest producers, followed by Nigeria and Cameroon. In the beginning of the 21st century the cocoa production increased from about 2,000,000 tons to about 3,000,000 tons in 2010 and subsequent years. While in this period expansion of the cocoa area (at the expense of forest land) contributed to increased production, nowadays more cocoa has to come from higher yield per ha which is very low at present. This paper highlights at first cocoa growing in each of the cocoa producing countries and then deals with the common constraints and options to higher yields, especially those in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana. The major causes of low yield are a high incidence of pests and diseases, the old age of cocoa farms and lack of soil nutrients.

Concerns about declining output due to aging and diseased trees have urged the government of Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana to launch large rehabilitation and replanting schemes which provide farmers with improved planting materials, plant protection chemicals and fertilizers. As owners of small farms do not earn enough income from their cocoa to purchase external inputs, the traditional mixed planting of cocoa and forest and fruit trees and some oil palms is discussed as an alternative to a high input approach. This low input low output system is sustainable but not the way forward to higher yields.

It is thought that in the short run higher cocoa prices and improved management including pest and disease control and to a certain extent fertilizer use offer scope for a larger cocoa output. In the more distant future the predicted climatic change and increased land use for food production will reduce the size of the cocoa area and affect the leading position of West Africa on the world cocoa market. This review shows that at present the conditions for sustainable production are not met and concludes that important structural changes in the cocoa sector are needed to reach this goal. These changes concern the economic viability of cocoa on small farms, extensive land use and the ecological impact of the current cocoa growing practice. The implementation of these changes requires area specific programs with as their common goal increased economic and environmentally sustainable cocoa production on less land.

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