However, research by KIT and funded by Lindt, says we are not close to a “tipping-point” for cocoa.
The independent KIT research was supported by Lindt, UTZ, the German Initiative on Sustainable Cocoa, CIRAD, Sudwind, IDH and the Jacobs Foundation. The study was conducted by Roger Bymolt, Anna Laven, Cedric Steijn and Marcelo Tyszler. The study and full dataset will enter the public domain at the World Cocoa Conference in Berlin next month.
The study - 'Demystifying the cocoa sector in Côte d'Ivoire and Ghana' - conducted surveys in 37 communities in Ghana and 37 in Cote d'Ivoire with around 3,000 households and held focus groups with farmers.
‘No concern on supply’
“Our study suggests that the world is not ‘running out of cocoa farmers’,” Anna Laven, senior advisor at KIT, told ConfectioneryNews.
She said the study found no evidence the mean age of cocoa farmers - 50.69 years, and 45.55 years in Côte d’Ivoire in the KIT study - is increasing, when compared to ages in earlier studies.
“Younger farmers continue to step into cocoa at a rate that at least replaces older farmers stepping out,” said Laven.
“Our data suggests that there is no concern on supply in the coming years and decades,” she said.
Cocoa is even becoming more popular, suggests the KIT study.
Around 84% of Ghanaian respondents said cocoa was the most important crop today, while 79% perceived it to be so five years.
Similarly, in Côte d'Ivoire, around 61% said cocoa was the main crop today and only 57% said this was the case five years ago.
Cocoa remains attractive because it generates a higher income than other crops, it has a national heritage in both countries and can help secure land rights, said farmers in the KIT study.
Before the price drop
KIT surveys asked about experiences during the 2015/16 cocoa season. "When we collected the data, it was just before the price drop, so maybe if we asked the questions to the farmers today, they might have different responses,” said Laven.
In Ghana, respondents said cocoa generates a higher income compared to other crops.
“Many participants specifically discussed how income from cocoa enables them to pay school fees, which were often cited as the household’s highest expenditure item,” said Laven.
The KIT researcher said many respondents are happy that cocoa income comes primarily in bulk during the main crop in December.
“The large influx of cash is used to buy building supplies and, if necessary, masons to build or renovate houses.
“Cocoa was one of the few crops that participants discussed as enabling them to undertake house construction or renovation,” she said.
Ivorian and Ghanaian farmers also talk favorably about market regulation, which helps protect them from price fluctuations, and which doesn’t exist for many other crops.
In Ghana, multi-stakeholder platform the ‘Producer Price Review Committee sets a guaranteed cocoa price, while national regulator Le Conseil du Café-Cacao sets fixed farm gate prices in Côte d’Ivoire.
Cocoa farmers already diversify
"It's really common for a household to produce more than one crop,” said Laven at Chocoa. According to the self-assessments of those surveyed, Ghana cocoa accounted for 61% of income for cocoa households, while 20% came from other crops, mainly cassava, plantain, cocoyam and maize. In Côte d’Ivoire, 66% of a cocoa household's income came from cocoa and 24% from other crops, mainly cassava, plantain, chili and eggplant.
Study participants also took pride in growing a crop of national importance cultivated by their ancestors.
“Quite a number of participants described cocoa as the backbone of the Ghanaian economy, the biggest source of foreign exchange and a big contributor to the country’s development,” said Laven.
However, Ivorian respondents gave national identity less prominence.
“Coffee, not cocoa, was considered to be the ‘traditional crop’ in a number of communities in the research areas, even though cocoa was said to have overtaken coffee as the most important crop due to its profitability and lower labor demands,” said Laven.
Quicker income and land rights
Cocoa has other practical benefits, suggested KIT’s research.
It typically takes three years to start yielding after planting, a shorter period than crops such as rubber.
“This means that farmers who plant cocoa on a new plot face a shorter period without income than if they plant rubber,” said Laven.
The KIT advisor added: “In Ghana, growing cocoa is actually perceived as a way for households to secure land rights.
“Participants argued that once a household plants cocoa trees, the land becomes their long-term property as long as the trees remain on the land.”
Too many farmers
Speaking at the Chocoa conference, Laven said: "Let's not push farmers into other alternatives if cocoa is actually the best alternative there is."
She told us today: “…Rather than worrying about having too few cocoa farmers, we should worry about having currently too many farmers that produce cocoa inefficiently on too much land, earning too little money. That is not sustainable.”