Your Ghana, My Ghana: Will cocoa the ‘golden pod’ be part of Ghana’s future?

Your Ghana, My Ghana: Will cocoa the ‘golden pod’ be part of Ghana’s future?

Cocoa, the ‘golden pod’, has been so firmly implanted in Ghana’s economic history that it is difficult, even traumatic, to imagine a future without it.


When small-scale migrant farmers led the start of the cocoa revolution in the 1890s, few could have guessed that this would become the mainstay of the country’s economy for the next 130 years.

Though gold is the number one export, the golden pod remains the mainstay of the Ghanaian economy because it provides income and security for 850,000 cocoa farm families, amounting to millions of people.

Gold is worth US$ 6-7 billion a year but is largely produced by multinationals who repatriate their profits overseas. 


By contrast, cocoa receipts worth about $2 billion a year all come back to Ghana, less the amount needed to import jute storage bags to meet European standards. In addition, whereas gold is a finite resource, cocoa is renewable.

It was Tetteh Quarshie, an itinerant Osu blacksmith, who brought cocoa beans back from Fernando Po (now Equatorial Guinea) and established the first commercial farm at Akwapim Mampong and sold seedlings, kicking off the cocoa revolution.

The first cocoa frontier was opened up by migrant Akwapim, Krobo, Shai and Ga farmers who moved from southern or coastal areas into Akim forest areas, pooling resources and forming asafo (companies) to buy strips of land.

The astonishing rise of these migrant cocoa farmers has been compellingly documented in a series of books by Polly Hill, a Cambridge scholar who lived and worked in Ghana during the Nkrumah era.

Within a space of barely 15-20 years, these forward-looking farmers had turned the Gold Coast into the world’s leading producer of cocoa for the chocolate manufacturers of the early 20th Century.

This spontaneous and indigenously produced miracle took the British colonial government by surprise. It counts alongside the humble mosquito’s role in creating a ‘White Man’s Grave’ in West Africa, as one of the reasons West African lands were not alienated from local farmers and given to commercial white planters from Europe. 

Aboriginal Rights protests

After protests by the Aboriginal Rights Protection Society formed in 1896, the West African Lands Committee was set up to deliberate whether land should be alienated to European planters, as in Southern and East Africa, or be left in African hands.

The committee recognised that the European farmers, despite their access to expensive capital equipment, could not compete with Tetteh Quarshie’s land-hungry but determined followers, who had “beaten all records in the world”.

Since that time, cocoa has proven to be a surprisingly resilient crop, surviving outbreaks of swollen shoot viral disease and black pod fungus which all but wiped it out.


But today the industry is threatened by a range of intractable problems requiring urgent political action. These include environmental threats, diseased cocoa trees and cocoa smuggling related to the current high international prices for cocoa.

Key among environmental problems are the linked evils of climate change, deforestation and the pollution of water bodies and destruction or sale of cocoa lands for illegal mining, known as galamsey

Seven years ago, when the international price of cocoa dropped more than 30 per cent, from US$ 3,000 a tonne in 2016 to US$ 2,000 in 2017 and US$ 1,850 in 2018, Ghana was the only country in the world that didn’t reduce the price paid to farmers.

According to Cocobod Chief Executive, Joseph Boahen Aidoo, “Illegal mining was about to explode in Ghana and the market for land had become more attractive than cocoa.”

He told the Graphic’s Your Ghana, My Ghana: “If we had reduced the producer price, we would have lost all our cocoa farmlands to illegal mining. We had to protect them.”

With large swathes of farmland already reported to have been destroyed by galamsey, Cocobod is currently undertaking a survey of cocoa producing areas. Though not yet concluded, the Cocobod believes the results will show a “huge impact on our industry”.

“It’s not just the loss of land but the destruction of the environment too. The micro-climate is affected and the ecosystem disrupted,” Boahen Aidoo said. He explained: “When the swamp areas around cocoa farms are excavated, the soil moisture under cocoa trees drains into the mining pits and the trees lose soil moisture and die in a short time.”


Boahen Aidoo has a grim view of the future environment for cocoa: “Today, because of illegal mining, almost all rivers are silted and choked. In 40 years’ time, there’ll be no rivers.”
Boahen Aidoo ranks the top threats to Ghana’s cocoa industry as climate change, illegal mining and swollen shoot disease, the last of which he says can be dealt with by his institution.

Interestingly, his analysis is largely borne out by Eddie Kareweh, the General Secretary of the Ghana Agricultural Workers Union (GAWU). Of GAWU’s 50,000 members, 33,000 are public sector wage earners while the rest are farmers and informal sector workers.

Five top threats

Kareweh ranks the five top threats in order of importance as galamsey, climate change, forest cover, rivers being destroyed and lack of interest in cocoa by young entrants to the labour market.

But while Kareweh applauds the support that Cocobod gives to cocoa farmers, he is most critical on one particular score: “Every year Cocobod goes for syndicated loans to pay the farmers.


This throws the whole country into anxiety. When the forex comes, it’s lodged at Bank of Ghana and helps to stabilise the economy. But we shouldn’t have to face that anxiety.”
Kareweh has an interesting solution to this problem.

“After 75 years as the mainstay of forex, Cocobod should be in a position by now to have their own bank and to grant loans for development purposes, like EXIM Bank.” “It should no longer be an institution that can’t operate if it doesn’t go for loans”, he told Your Ghana, My Ghana:


Ghana could take advantage of the rocketing international prices for cocoa, that have seen Cocobod increase its producer price for the current season by 58.26 per cent, to begin setting up such a bank while dealing with the problems of environmental degradation and illegal mining.

This year’s spot prices of US $7,000-$8000 a tonne are the result of supply challenges in both Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire, which overtook Ghana as the world’s leading producer in 1978.


Together, the two countries account for 60 per cent of world production. Resolving these challenges requires the kind of urgent political intervention that is not usually seen during an election year.

But with countries such as Ecuador in South America and Indonesia in Asia gearing up to overtake Ghana’s faltering cocoa production, this is an emergency that every political party in Ghana should hang its hat on or risk going down in the history books as having killed the industrial goose that for 130 years laid Ghana’s golden pods.

For a discussion of these issues, join us at Graphic Online TV on Thursday at 10am. Next week, the second of this two-part series next week looks at chocolate manufacturing in Ghana.

Dede Amanor-Wilks is a journalist and economic historian specialising in economic development. See

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