Cacao production: Challenges and Management Strategies

Cacao production Challenges and Management Strategies
Cacao tree

Benjamin Akane

Agriculturist specialized in the Ghanaian Cocoa system

Share it:

This post is also available in:

This post is also available in: Español (Spanish) Français (French)

Show more translationsShow less translations

Cocoa has long been an important economic commodity in Ghana and a major source of revenue and export (Okyere & Mensah, 2016). The cocoa business employs around 2 million people and comprises farming, trading, transportation, and processing (World Bank, 2011). Despite cocoa’s significant economic importance in Ghana, the business is beset by problems, resulting in Ghana losing its position as the world’s biggest cocoa exporter to Cote d’Ivoire. According to Opoku-Ameyaw et al. (2011), production peaked in 1965 with 560,000 tonnes, then declined to 154,000 tonnes in the 1980s before recovering again.

Cocoa production has historically been important to Ghana’s economy and will likely remain so in the coming years; as a result, any significant reduction in production will have a detrimental influence on the country’s economy. According to Opoku Ameyaw et al. (2011), most Ghanaian cocoa farmers operate on a small scale, with average farm sizes ranging from 2 to 3 hectares (2.5 to 5 acres), while just around 10% of cocoa farmers operate on a large scale.

The current situation in Ghana

Ghana’s average cocoa yield for small-scale producers is estimated to be around 400 kg per hectare (kg/ha) (357 lb/acre) (Opoku Ameyaw et al., 2011), which is lower than other producing countries such as Cote d’Ivoire and Indonesia, which have yields of 1270 kg/ha (1133 lb/acre) (World Bank, 2011). Many factors contribute to the low yield, including scientific and technical challenges such as soil fertility and planting material quality, as well as diseases and pests. Besides the productivity mentioned above, Ghana’s low cocoa productivity results from several socio-cultural and economic factors. One of these is the issue of land tenure and security, which directly or indirectly impact farmers’ attitudes and investment decisions in cocoa production and systems. Given the importance of cocoa as a key export crop and a big source of foreign money in Ghana, it is crucial to figure out what’s stopping it from being grown successfully.

Poor farm care methods are to blame for the low prices granted to Ghanaian cocoa growers (Anon., 1999). Poor farm management techniques, the planting of low-yielding cultivars, and the presence of pests and diseases all contribute to low cocoa yields (Dormon et al., 2004). Although several studies (Kongor et al., 2016) have been conducted on the factors influencing the effective production of cocoa in Ghana, new research in various areas of cultivation with various cocoa agro-ecologies is needed to improve decision-making in the cocoa sub-sector. Furthermore, this study will identify the factors that influence the cocoa sub-research sector’s success, resulting in a higher level of awareness among stakeholders and the ability to ensure better practices and make appropriate decisions for the industry’s improvement.

Also, Cocoa farming in Ghana was dominated by middle to old age, which is not a good index for improved productivity because farmers’ productivity decreases as they age. The study further revealed that low-yielding cocoa trees are usually over-aged or diseased and that an over-aged tree is a cocoa tree older than 20 years within its production period.

Cacao production: Challenges and Management Strategies

Impacts of climate variability on cocoa production.

Climate change has been a major topic of policy discussion over the past seven decades because of its impact on cocoa production. In Ghana, according to the latest information, purchases of graded and sealed cocoa beans are very low compared to the previous year (down 34% to 524 000 tonnes as of March 31, 2022), mainly due to unfavorable weather conditions in the main cocoa growing areas of the country. Several climate factors (temperature, rainfall, humidity, and sunshine) are known to mutually affect cocoa plant growth (Owoeye & Sekumade, 2016). Still, the most critical determinants of cocoa growth are temperature and rainfall (Ngoong & Forgha, 2013). Research conducted by Hutchins et al. (2015) in Ghana found that all interviews with key informants and farmers revealed that temperature and rainfall variability were the most challenging. These impacts of climate variability, particularly prolonged drought, make it difficult to establish new cocoa farms (Anim-Kwapong & Frimpong, 2004; Hutchins et al., 2015). Pronounced dry spells lead to a reduction in the Leaf Area Index (LAI), resulting in a decline in cocoa yields (Adjei-Nsiah & Kermah, 2012)

Temperature affects crop growth and development in several ways. These include altering the flowering time of plants, leading to a reduction in seed number and high evapotranspiration (Challinor & Wheeler, 2007). Moisture loss increases plant water demand, resulting in drought stress for plants during the dry season (Schroth et al., 2016). According to Oyekale (2015), climate change can also affect the development of pests and diseases that affect cocoa by altering host resistance to pesticides. A case study conducted by Lawal & Emaku (2007) at Cocoa Research Institute Nigeria (CRIN), Ibadan, on the effects of some climatic variables on black pod disease showed a positive correlation (0.370 and 0.003, respectively) for temperature and humidity. This means that as these climatic variables increase, the incidence of black pod disease also increases. In addition, changes in the length and intensity of solar radiation, i.e., more than 60%, lead to a decrease in photosynthetic rate, with prolonged exposure to higher solar radiation damaging the leaf photosynthetic mechanism (Anim-Kwapong & Frimpong, 2004)

Rainfall affects cocoa yields more than any other environmental factor (Adjei-Nsiah & Kermah, 2012). Cocoa is very sensitive to drought, and cropping patterns are related to rainfall distribution (Owoeye & Sekumade, 2016), so it produces good yields throughout the year, even when water availability is minimal but persistent (Oyekale, 2015). This means that rainfall distribution influences annual variation in cocoa yields more than any other climate variable. Therefore, the ideal annual rainfall distribution for maximum growth and yields is between 1500 and 2500 mm (59-98 in) (Nair, 2010)

Through global projections for future precipitation indicating a decline, Laederach et al. (2013) project an insignificant 12 mm decline in precipitation in Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire by 2030. Although more rainfall is needed for high productivity, Oyekale et al. (2009), cited in Hutchins et al. (2015), argue that increased rainfall and longer rainy seasons slow cocoa drying and processing, thereby reducing the value of the bean and increasing processing costs. Therefore, effective cocoa production through harvesting and processing requires timely and moderate rainfall distribution, as cocoa is highly sensitive to extreme weather events. In addition, due to unpredictable rainfall patterns, cocoa farmers tend to mix up regular times for spraying cocoa pods to ensure maximum protection (Oyekale, 2015).

Factors affecting effective cocoa production

According to the findings, the most significant impediment to cocoa growers in the study area was the high input cost. The high cost of farm inputs had always been a limiting factor for the cocoa production in Ghana. Due to their limited revenue, smallholder cocoa farmers struggle to buy inputs like better seeds, fertilizer, and chemicals to increase production and adapt to climate change. However, during the poll, the other criteria attracted much attention as well. The costs associated with successfully adopting and implementing technology should not be overlooked. Farmers, for example, must make a major financial sacrifice to achieve effective input and labor use. According to Bonabana (2002), adopting new procedures or technologies can be expensive. As a result, regardless of the perceived gains’ possible positive nature, the adoption rate of new agricultural practices is significantly influenced by farmers’ financial status. Hence, the adoption rate is frequently influenced by whether or not the technology is subsidized; otherwise, the adopters’ financial resources will determine whether or not they adopt (Khanna, 2001).

According to the data acquired, labor availability was also cited as a limiting issue in cocoa output in the study area. Because new agricultural innovations are typically labor intensive, the availability of labor in the area will assist farmers in implementing innovations. According to studies such as Hailu et al. (2014), enhanced techniques necessitate a lot of labor. Thus households with a large labor force use the technology on their agricultural plots more than those with a small labor force. The positively significant link between labor availability and agricultural innovation adoption led Nandi and Nedumaran (2021) to conclude that labor availability is necessary for technology adoption that boosts farmer yield. Because enhanced forage methods are labor-expensive, Ali et al. (2018) discovered a positive association between labor availability and the intensity of utilization of improved forages.

A major impediment to cocoa farming growth in the research region has been identified as a lack of / inadequate extension service. The more agricultural extension agents that visit farmers, the more likely it is that newer farming technologies and adaptation strategies will be conveyed to and implemented by the farmers. This is because extension agents act as a conduit for disseminating innovative agricultural techniques and adaption strategies to cocoa growers. Farmers’ interactions with extension agents are typically thought to benefit their technology uptake and deployment. As a result, a farmer’s interaction with extension agents raises an understanding of new technologies. Farmers’ access to agricultural extension and their ability to understand and exploit technical innovation, according to Ha et al. (2008), may be attributable to their educational level, which might affect or encourage them to embrace a technology sooner and better vice versa.

According to the respondents, one of the main obstacles inhibiting good cocoa production in the research region is the unpredictability of weather circumstances. According to (Oyekale, 2012), climate change is altering the stages and rates of growth of cocoa pests and pathogens, making cocoa more vulnerable to such threats. Changes in environmental variables such as humidity, temperature, and rainfall can enhance pest and disease rates while also changing the types of pests and illnesses that make the cocoa farm setting a welcoming habitat.

Management strategies to boost the productivity of the cocoa sector

To improve annual cocoa production and yield efficiency, successive governments since independence have adopted policies and programs to address these significant obstacles plaguing the industry. Governments have committed to bringing policy initiative 2 within the cocoa subsector to implementation so that the subsector can contribute significantly to gross domestic product (GDP) growth. These policies include increasing producer prices, disease and pest control programs, payment of sustainability surcharges, the Hi-Tech program (introducing hybrid seedlings to replace dying, unproductive, and aging cocoa trees), and fertilizer subsidies (Muller, 2016). The government of Ghana introduced the Hi-Tech program in 2003. The program aimed to replace dying, unproductive, and aging cocoa trees with hybrid cocoa seedlings (created by crossing two specific cocoa plant varieties) that are high-yielding and can resist various cocoa diseases and pests.

Credit availability was considered the most crucial management strategy for successfully reducing the barriers obstructing profitable cocoa production. Any agricultural business must have money to succeed. According to several studies, providing farmers with access to financing increases their economic, technical, and allocative efficiency. Due to their frequent financial disadvantage, smallholder farmers will find and utilize agricultural knowledge if they have access to credit in the form of money or inputs. Availability of credit is important if improved technology in the form of purchased inputs is to be available to farmers, especially small-scale producers. Improved seed, agrochemicals, and fertilizer, for example, necessitate money in the form of short-term production loans. Credit can help cocoa farmers overcome their financial constraints. According to Adu-Asare (2018), access to credit had a favorable impact on the usage of better agricultural inputs since it allowed farmers to obtain seeds, fertilizers, and other inputs on credit.

According to Akudugu et al. (2012), adoption and credit have a considerable association. They claim that credit enables farmers to purchase expensive contemporary technology, making it impossible for many rural farmers, who are typically poor, to obtain and use them without aid in the form of affordable credit and other financial services (Akudugu et al., 2012). For example, due to poverty and restricted access to credit, most small-scale cocoa producers in the country cannot purchase basic production technology such as fertilizers and other agrochemicals, resulting in low crop yields (MoFA, 2010). Research conducted by Kyere (2016) in the forest-savanna transitional zone of Ghana revealed that planting more plantain suckers as a protective shield over cocoa seedlings against excessive sunshine is one of the major adaptation strategies practiced by the farmers due to deforestation that has left large parts of the land bare.

In addition, Below et al. (2010) concludes that improved variety has a considerable potential to strengthen the adaptive capacity of farmers. An example is the hybridization of cocoa seeds by the Cocoa Research Institute of Ghana in 1984 (Kolavalli & Vigneri, 2011) to produce the hybrid type grown by most cocoa farmers recently, as it is sunshine tolerant, matures early and gives higher yields compared to the Amazon and Amelonado types previously cultivated. Aneani & Ofori-Frimpong (2013) analyzed the yield gap and some factors of cocoa yield in Ghana and found that planting poor cocoa varieties negatively impacts cocoa yield. This, they indicated, can reduce cocoa yield by 28.1 (kg/h) due to the high genetic variations among the cocoa varieties. According to Burke & Lobell (2010), decisions to switch crop varieties cannot be made based on climate alone. Different varieties have different input requirements and costs associated with their production. Therefore, the farmers must be willing to bare those costs that come with the use of new crop varieties.

Another important agricultural adaptation measure is income and crop diversification (Nhemachena & Hassan, 2007). Income diversification involves selling non-timber forest products and activities that farm families undertake beyond the farm, such as petty trading (Below et al., 2010).

Further reading 

Cacao production: Challenges and Management Strategies
Cacao Variety Selection and Propagation
Cacao Soil requirements and Planting distances
Water needs and Irrigation of Cacao
Cacao Fertilization and Nutrient Requirements
Cacao Plant Protection – Major Stresses, Disease and Pest of Cacao
Cacao tree Pruning
Yield, Harvest, Handling and Storage of Cacao
Sales, Trading, and Shipping Cocoa Beans


Abara, I. O., and Singh, S. (1993). Ethics and biases in technology adoption: The small-firm argument. Technological Forecasting and Social Change43(3-4), 289-300.

Adamu, C. O. (2018). Analysis of access to formal credit facilities among rural women farmers in Ogun State, Nigeria. Nigeria Agricultural Journal49(1), 109-116.

Adu-Asare, K. (2018). Cocoa farming business, financial literacy and social welfare of farmers in Brong-Ahafo Region of Ghana (Doctoral dissertation, University of Cape Coast).

Ahenkorah, Y. (1981). Influence of environment on growth and production of the cacao tree: soils and nutrition. In Actes, Douala, Cameroun, 4-12 Nov 1979/7 Conference internationale sur la recherche cacaoyere= Proceedings, Douala, Cameroun, 4-12 Nov 1979/7 International Cocoa Research Conference. Lagos, Nigeria: Secretary General, Cocoa Producers’ Alliance, 1981.

Akudugu, M. A., Guo, E., and Dadzie, S. K. (2012). Adoption of modern agricultural production technologies by farm households in Ghana: what factors influence their decisions?

Ali, E. B., Awuni, J. A., and Danso-Abbeam, G. (2018). Determinants of fertilizer adoption among smallholder cocoa farmers in the Western Region of Ghana. Cogent Food & Agriculture4(1), 1538589.

Ameyaw, G. A., Dzahini-Obiatey, H. K., and Domfeh, O. (2014). Perspectives on cocoa swollen shoot virus disease (CSSVD) management in Ghana. Crop Protection65, 64-70.

Aneani, F., Anchirinah, V. M., Owusu-Ansah, F., and Asamoah, M. (2012). Adoption of some cocoa production technologies by cocoa farmers in Ghana. Sustainable Agriculture Research1(1), 103.

Bonabana-Wabbi, J. (2002). Assessing factors affecting adoption of agricultural technologies: The case of Integrated Pest Management (IPM) in Kumi District, Eastern Uganda (Doctoral dissertation, Virginia Tech).

Danso-Abbeam, G., Addai, K. N., and Ehiakpor, D. (2014). Willingness to pay for farm insurance by smallholder cocoa farmers in Ghana. Journal of Social Science for Policy Implications2(1), 163-183.

Dormon, E. V., Van Huis, A., Leeuwis, C., Obeng-Ofori, D., and Sakyi-Dawson, O. (2004). Causes of low productivity of cocoa in Ghana: farmers’ perspectives and insights from research and the socio-political establishment. NJAS: Wageningen Journal of Life Sciences52(3-4), 237-259.

Doss, C. R. (2006). Analyzing technology adoption using microstudies: limitations, challenges, and opportunities for improvement. Agricultural economics34(3), 207-219.

Giovanopoulou, E., Nastis, S. A., and Papanagiotou, E. (2011). Modeling farmer participation in agri-environmental nitrate pollution reducing schemes. Ecological economics70(11), 2175- 2180

Hailu, E., Getaneh, G., Sefera, T., Tadesse, N., Bitew, B., Boydom, A., … and Temesgen, T. (2014). Faba bean gall; a new threat for faba bean (Vicia faba) production in Ethiopia. Adv Crop Sci Tech2(144), 2.

International Cocoa Organization (ICCO), (2008). Manual on pesticides use in cocoa. ICCO Press releases of 10 June 2008 by ICCO Executive Director Dr. Jan Vingerhoets. International Cocoa Organization (ICCO), London.

Kehinde, A. D., and Tijani, A. A. (2011). Effects of access to livelihood capitals on adoption of European Union (EU) approved pesticides among cocoa producing households in Osun State, Nigeria. Agricultura Tropica et Subtropica54(1), 57-70.

Khanna, M. (2001). Sequential adoption of site‐specific technologies and its implications for nitrogen productivity: A double selectivity model. American journal of agricultural economics83(1), 35-51.

Kongor, J. E., Boeckx, P., Vermeir, P., Van de Walle, D., Baert, G., Afoakwa, E. O., and Dewettinck, K. (2019). Assessment of soil fertility and quality for improved cocoa production in six cocoa growing regions in Ghana. Agroforestry Systems93(4), 1455-1467.

Kumi, E., and Daymond, A. J. (2015). Farmers’ perceptions of the effectiveness of the Cocoa Disease and Pest Control Programme (CODAPEC) in Ghana and its effects on poverty reduction. American Journal of Experimental Agriculture7(5), 257-274.

MoFA, 2010. Production of major crops in Ghana, PPMED, Accra, 12 pp.

Namara, R. E., Horowitz, L., Nyamadi, B., and Barry, B. (2011). Irrigation development in Ghana: Past experiences, emerging opportunities, and future directions.

Nandi, R., and Nedumaran, S. (2021). Understanding the aspirations of farming communities in developing countries: a systematic review of the literature. The European Journal of Development Research33(4), 809-832.

Ngala, T. J. (2015). Effect of shade trees on cocoa yield in small-holder cocoa (Theobroma cacao) agroforests in Tabla, Centre Cameroon (Doctoral dissertation, Thesis, crop sciences. University of Dschang, Cameroon).

Ofori-Bah, A., and Asafu-Adjaye, J. (2011). Scope economies and technical efficiency of cocoa agroforesty systems in Ghana. Ecological Economics70(8), 1508-1518.

Ogunsumi, L. O., and Awolowo, O. (2010). Synthesis of extension models and analysis for sustainable agricultural technologies: lessons for extension workers in southwest, Nigeria. Agriculture and Biology Journal of North America1(6), 1187-1192.

Okojie, L. O., Olowoyo, S. O., Sanusi, R. A., and Popoola, A. R. (2015). Cocoa farming households’ vulnerability to climate variability in Ekiti State, Nigeria. International Journal of Applied Agriculture and Apiculture Research11(1-2), 37-50.

Okyere, E., and Mensah, A. C. (2016). Cocoa production in Ghana: trends and volatility. International Journal of Economics, Commerce and Management, 5 (3), 462-471.

Opoku-Ameyaw, K., Oppong, F. K., Amoah, F. M., Osei-Akoto, S., and Swatson, E. (2011). Growth and early yield of cashew intercropped with food crops in northern Ghana. Journal of Tropical Agriculture49, 53-57.

Oyekale, A. S. (2012). Impact of climate change on cocoa agriculture and technical efficiency of cocoa farmers in South-West Nigeria. Journal of human ecology40(2), 143-148.

Wessel, M., and Quist-Wessel, P. F. (2015). Cocoa production in West Africa, a review and analysis of recent developments. NJAS: Wageningen Journal of Life Sciences74(1), 1-7.

World Bank (2011). Supply Chain Risk Assessment: Cocoa in Ghana. Ghana Cocoa SCRA Report.

World Bank. 2007. World development report 2007: Development and the next generation. Washington D.C.: World Bank.

Wossen, T., Berger, T., Mequaninte, T., and Alamirew, B. (2013). Social network effects on the adoption of sustainable natural resource management practices in Ethiopia. International Journal of Sustainable Development & World Ecology20(6), 477-483.

( Dohmen, et al. 2018)  Temperature changes, drought, and prolonged dry season affect the flavor and overall quality of the product

(Neilson, 2007) Unlike Farmers in West Africa, Cocoa farmers in Latin America tend to ferment the cocoa pulp surrounding the beans using wooden boxes. In Indonesia, farmers rarely take part in the fermentation process because their production is valued mostly for cocoa butter which is unaffected by fermentation


We join forces with N.G.O.s, Universities, and other organizations globally to fulfill our common mission on sustainability and human welfare.