In Ghana, the cocoa sector is at a turning point where it needs revitalization and modernization to make it more competitive, resilient and robust. Cocoa production is Ghana’s largest agricultural activity, accounting for 8 percent of the country’s GDP and supporting approximately thirty percent of the population.
Twenty-two percent of the world’s cocoa comes from Ghana, and the global demand for cocoa is rising at 3 percent per year. Yet the country risks a decline in its national cocoa production, due to the aging population of cocoa farmers, in combination with poor access to information, technology and climate smart agricultural techniques. Fortunately, this creates a tremendous opportunity for Ghana’s young people.
Youth are driving change in the sector by employing new systems of production and introducing technology. The adoption of sound agricultural practices and the right planting materials can increase productivity up to 300 hundred percent. This was the focus of the discussion at a recent panel hosted by The MasterCard Foundation at the African Green Revolution Forum in Nairobi, Kenya. The panelists also highlighted the need to shift the perspective from agriculture as a subsistence activity and lifestyle to agriculture as a business. One panelist, Joseph Yaw Bosempeng, a young cocoa farmer, drove this point home when he stated clearly, “I am the manager of my farm.”
Major barriers to youth participation in the cocoa sector include access to land and financial services. In Ghana, where interest rates are 36 percent, access to credit is prohibitive. To address the issue of land, one solution shared was to rehabilitate older and/or abandoned cocoa farms. Land titles are also important – insecure land tenure leads to farmers being less likely to invest in the land, which impacts economic prospects and the ability of young farmers to treat cocoa as a business. Panelists also emphasized that it wasn’t enough to make the cocoa sector profitable – young cocoa agripreneurs need mentoring and coaching as well, which they can obtain through programs run by organizations such as Solidaridad, who are part of the Youth Forward Initiative.
Climate change was raised during the audience question and answer session, specifically how climate-smart agricultural practices such as intercropping of plantains in Ghana and banana trees in Kenya, can help provide resilience by offering shade and protection for cocoa seedlings. They also provide diversified income during the three to five years it takes cocoa trees to mature, and offer alternate sources of income such as timber.
There was an overall acknowledgement that youth are indeed driving innovation but that agricultural transformation requires an enabling environment, raised productivity and a modern approach. Key stakeholders, including the private sector, must be willing to collaborate in order to understand, and address the complex issues and challenges faced by youth.
The role of youth transforming agriculture, specifically in the cocoa sector, was the subject of The MasterCard Foundation’s breakfast side-session at The African Green Revolution Forum September 5-9, 2016. The session, the only one focused on young people in agriculture, brought a youth perspective and lens to the 10th anniversary Forum’s theme: To Seize the Moment: Securing Africa’s Rise Through Agricultural Transformation.