‘Galamsey’ dwindling the interest of the youth in cocoa farming, a threat to future cocoa production

The upsurge in illegal small scale mining or ‘galamsey’ activities in some cocoa growing areas in the Ashanti and Western Region has occasioned a growing disinterest of the youth to engage in cocoa farming activities which threatens future cocoa production in these areas. This was revealed through direct engagements with over 50 cocoa farmers across Bena, Sodua and Manso Nkwanta communities in the Ashanti region and Amanekrom community in the Western Region.

The prevalence of galamsey coupled with its perceived lucrativeness have attracted many youths to engage in the act. The cocoa farmers who were interviewed—mostly over 55 years of age—decried the level at which the youth in their communities have joined the bandwagon of ‘galamsey’ activities. They revealed that the youth in their communities do not see cocoa farming as a viable source of income to support their desired livelihood. The youth rather prefer areas where they can make high and quick income amidst the increasing cost of living in the country, an expectation cocoa farming does not offer considering the numerous challenges confronting cocoa farmers across the country.

Although cocoa farming has been regarded as profitable in the long term, the youth in these cocoa farming areas are yet to witness this reality in the lives of their parents, relatives and people who have engaged in cocoa farming all their lifetime. Speaking on the issue, a 57 year old cocoa farmer, who has been engaged in cocoa farming for over 35 years in Manso-Nkwanta in the Ashanti region emphasized: “cocoa farming has been left to the older generation, and we have committed ourselves to do this work. The youth are not interested, so I plead that government should pay attention to this issue, else risk losing cocoa yieldsThey have lost interest in the occupation thereby leaving it to aged farmers, who have the expertise and experience but lack the strength to continue farming”. 

          Research officers of Commodity Monitor Ltd engaging with some cocoa farmers in Manso Nkwanta, Ashanti Region  

In Ghana, the average cocoa farmer is well over 50 years old. This raises serious concerns regarding the sustainability of Ghana’s cocoa production especially considering the challenges that confront the youth in venturing into cocoa farming talk about lack of access to land, capital, knowledge and financial services.

The farmers also revealed that some youth cocoa farmers have sold their cocoa farms for mining activities since they regard the lump sum income from the sale of their farms relatively profitable as compared to income from cocoa production. Some of the few youth cocoa farmers interviewed also declared their willingness to sell their farms for mining purposes when they get the opportunity. The general held belief among the youth is that with the current state of affairs in the cocoa sector, engaging in cocoa farming all things being equal will provide them with the same low living standards as other cocoa farmers in their communities.

A 53 year old farmer with 25 years of experience in cocoa farming in Amanekrom reiterated: “the reluctance of the youth to engage in cocoa farming is as a result of the various challenges they see us face. We are challenged financially, if government could provide us with some loans that would be helpful. We have people here with parcels of land and willing to farm, however when they consider all the challenges, they become hesitant”.

Another striking revelation from the cocoa farmers was the growing unwillingness and seeming disinterest of their children to take over their farms when they become incapacitated or pass away. The farmers therefore expressed pessimism about the future of their farms in their absence.

They further recounted that getting labourers to work on cocoa farms has become a major challenge since the youth—including foreigners from Togo—who used to work as labourers in land preparation and cocoa harvesting have all turned to ‘galamsey’.

Impact on cocoa production

This development has both economic and environmental consequences for the country. The dwindling interest of the youth in cocoa farming coupled with the problem of ageing cocoa farmers in the short to long term would affect the country’s cocoa production reducing significantly the sector’s contribution to export earnings and GDP. Moreover, the increased youth engagement in illegal mining activities leads to farmland destructions and other environmental consequences, posing serious risks to future cocoa farming and other agricultural activities.

Until recently, cocoa was Ghana’s second largest export commodity after gold. The crop now sits as the third largest export commodity losing its place to oil. In 2020, total cocoa export earnings recorded was US$ 2.3 billion increasing to US$2.9 billion in 2021 whilst exports receipts from oil for the same periods were US$2.9 billion and US$3.9 billion respectively. At end of June this year, a total of US$1.4 billion cocoa export receipts were recorded marking a 22% decrease of the earnings recorded same period in 2021.

The decline in export earnings has been largely due to the reduction in cocoa production in the country considering the marginal increase in cocoa price. As at July this year, Ghana’s cocoa production for the 2021/2022 season was reported to have fallen by -35% y/ty to 685,000 MT. The International Cocoa Organisation (ICCO) projected Ghana’s cocoa production at the end of the 2021/2022 season to reduce by one-third of the 2020/21 crop season where the country recorded a historic cocoa output of 1.4 million tonnes.

For the 2022/2023 crop season, COCOBOD projects total cocoa output of 650,000 metric tonnes, previously set at 850,000 metric tonnes attributing the change in projections to ‘galamsey’ and drought. This is expected to reduce the sector’s revenue by US$350 million.

Considering the challenges many smallholder cocoa farmers face, interventions that would enhance the livelihoods of cocoa farmers and make the sector economically attractive are needed to kindle interest of the youth in cocoa farming.