Exploring the cocoa tree decline in Nyame Nnae, Ghana and the complications of tree/land tenure that smallholder farmers are facing

USAID in Ghana Cocoa farm

This case study is about Nyame Nnae, a village in western Ghana, a part of the Asankrangwa District. Asankrangwa is a stool (Indigenous group) that owns the land customarily in their district[1]. Their land ownership is written in Ghana’s Constitution which means their customary rights are de jure. Almost all cocoa farmers in Nyame Nnae are observing a decline in the amount of cocoa being produced from their trees[2]. Many trees or whole crops are dying. If the farmers owned the land they were farming, they would cut the trees down and replant. However, the chiefs of the stools that own the farmland usually include in tenure agreement that the farmer's tenure is tied to their current crops[2]. This means that if they cut and replant, they would lose their tenure. Through the help of Cocobod, the Land Administration Project (LAP) developed by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), Hershey, ECOM cocoa supplier, and the World Cocoa Foundation (WCF), land tenure security for farmers is improving and therefore sustainability and productivity are improving as well[1][3].


Ghana is the second largest producer of cocoa in the world with an annual output of about 800,000 metric tons[3]. Ghana as a country has a pluralistic legal system[3]. This means that customary and statutory land law overlap. In contrast to many countries, the government owns only 20% of land which is governed by statutory law[3]. The other 80% is governed by customary law, with ownership usually vested in chiefs[3][4]. Nyame Nnae is a small village in western Ghana in the Asankrangwa District[1]. It is a village that relies heavily on cocoa production for their livelihood[4]. The Asankrangwa District is customary land owned by their stool. Stools are aboriginal groups in Ghana[1]. Nyame Nnae has a population of 783 with 147 households[1]. Many farmers in Nyame Nnae do not own the land they farm and have land tenure agreements on the customary land owned by chiefs. The land tenure agreements tend to be verbal, with no documentation or detailed outline of how farmers can use the land[3]. This confusion creates land insecurity for the farmers which, in turn, affects decision making that could benefit production and thus, revenue from their cocoa farm. With 80% of land in Ghana being owned customarily, 60% of its cocoa production is produced by 800,000 smallholder cocoa farmers farming on these lands[5].

Cocoa Sector

Cocoa in Ghana is seen to buyers as high quality and thus commands a premium price tag[3]. Quality must be maintained in order to keep this price tag and for buyers like Hershey to keep buying. The decline of production from places like Nyame Nnae has caused a hit in the income of local farmers[6]. The old, dying trees not producing as much also affects the quality of the cocoa. Cocobod estimates that 40% of the cocoa trees in Ghana should to be replanted[2]. Through the help of Cocobod, WCF, USAID and ECOM (a cocoa supplier), land security is being addressed, resulting in more productive, sustainable and better quality cocoa[2][3]. Cocoa is Ghana's most important and lucrative agricultural crop[3]. It accounts for more than 9% of agricultural GDP and is the third largest earner in all of Ghana’s exports[3]. Nyame Nnae has 47 ECOM farmers out of the 147 households[1]. This means that ECOM buys cocoa from these 47 farms and supplies that to the major cocoa buyers such as Hershey, allowing smallholder cocoa farmers to become more of a price-maker rather than a price-taker[1]. According to USAID, there are 306 total farms or plots, of which 293 are cocoa farms in Nyame Nnae[1]. The average farm size based on a survey from farmers was 3.2 acres ranging from 1 - 115 acres[1]. 196 farmers reported that they do not grow anything other than cocoa on their land[1].


With Ghana having 80% of their land being customarily owned, most of the tenure agreements related to cocoa farmers are not through the government. There are 5 different types of customary land tenure in Ghana with the National Constitution having these tenure types written in law. These are explained below.

1992 Constitution of the Republic of Ghana:

The constitution of Ghana recognizes all types of landholding, including customary rights[1]. The constitution states that the customary land of each stool (different communities of Ghana’s aboriginals) is owned by those stools[1]. The constitution explains types of tenure agreements and their application. Written legal documents with customary rights allow for security like how the community forests in Zanzibar are trying to get their customary rights inscribed in law to keep their rights no matter what happens to changes in government[7].

5 Types of Customary Land:

Allodial Title

Allodial title is the highest form of customary title to land[3]. It implies full ownership of the land. It is only possible to have Allodial title if you are an aborigine[3]. In the context of Nyame Nnae, the chiefs that own the farm land, giving tenure to the farmers, have Allodial title.

Customary Freehold:

Customary freehold is also only available for indigenous people of the region in Ghana[3]. It occurs when an Allodial title holder allocates land to a group or individual, giving them certain rights. The customary freeholders hold the allocated land for the Allodial title holder and can sell, lease or mortgage their rights to others[3]. The freeholder must recognize their superior with the Allodial title by doing any customary service they ask them to[3].


Leaseholds are formal agreements made by Allodial title holders that lease land to Ghanaians for up to 99 years or 50 years to foreigners[3]. Although both aborigines and settlers can have leasehold agreement, it is mostly done with settlers. Settlers can still be Ghanaian, as long as they are not an aboriginal of that area[3].


Caretakers are settlers that farm a piece of land with no land or farm ownership. They are simply labourers that get paid with a portion of the crop. The caretaker can be terminated at any time with no reason[3]. Caretakers have no land or tenure security, giving them little motivation to care for the farm other than for their wage.


Sharecropping is divided into two types. Abunu and Abusa (described below). Sharecropping can be done by both aborigines and settlers but more traditionally used by settlers. It has the least amount of tenure security other than caretakers due to the fact that tenure agreements are rarely documented unless a third party is involved[3].

Abunu Sharecropping:

Abunu sharecropping includes a sharecropper and the land owner who has Allodial title. Abunu can occur in two ways. Both ways include the farmer bringing a cocoa tree crop to maturity. The first, more traditional way of Abunu is after the farmer has brought the farm to maturity, the proceeds of the farm are split 50/50 between the land owner and the farmer[3]. In this scenario, the farmer still has little stake in the land itself, giving the farmer less security. In the second, more recent way of Abunu, after maturity, the proceeds and the trees are shared with the farmers[3]. Giving the farmer more stake in the land allows for land security and will motivate the farmer to maintain and improve the farm as long as they have some decision making power.

Abusa Sharecropping:

Abusa sharecropping occurs when the landowner establishes the cocoa farms[3]. After the cocoa farm is established, the sharecropper farms and maintains the entire farm. Instead of halving the income, a third of the crop's income each goes to the sharecropper, the land owner and to a fund for crop inputs[3]. Without Abusa, farmers are usually left to pay for the farming inputs which can be costly. Abusa is less secure than Abunu in practice because even though there is supposed to be a third of the crops proceeds going towards input, the unofficial agreements cannot be relied upon[3]. The land owner may be keeping some of that money for themselves and leaving the farmer with less income and non-guaranteed inputs.


Cocobod is Ghana's cocoa board. Cocobod helps farmers by paying landowners to allow farmers to replant without losing their rights to the land[3]. They also help set the price for cocoa purchases made by companies based on current market prices[3].

Furthermore, Cocobod has implemented a plan titled the Cocoa Sector Development Strategy II (CSDS II): The Transformation and Modernization Agenda (2015-2025)[3]. Cocobod’s (2015) plan initiated a scoping study that identified the following 5 major limiting factors to Ghana’s cocoa productivity[3]:

1) Management information and accounting systems

2) Logistical systems and quality control

3) Input supply and services

4) Tree rehabilitation in cocoa agroforestry and land use management

5) Coordination of programs and projects in the cocoa sector

Legal Frameworks

The 1992 Constitution of the Republic of Ghana: Deals with tenure arrangements. Stated before in tenure arrangements.

The Land Title Registration Law of 1986: This law identifies which land can be legally registered. In most cases, rural land is not legally registered because the tenure agreements are usually verbal and undocumented[3]. The farmers holding the land in those areas do not have leverage to negotiate nor the knowledge to negotiate. Land that can be legally registered includes customary freehold, Abunu and Abusa[3].

The office of the Administrator of Stool Lands Act of 1994 (OASL): The legal framework for the management of Stool lands. Specifically focuses on the financial management of customary lands. They do this by collecting royalties and rent[3]. The OASL also acts to legally register land but is not their primary goal[3].

The Lands Commission Act of 2008: Includes the Survey and Mapping Division, Land Valuation Division, Land Registration Division, and Public and Vested Land Division[3]. All of these divisions work towards improving land tenure.


USAID set up a project to help improve land tenure security called the Land Administration Project (LAP). The project occurred in 2 phases.

Phase 1

Occurred in 2003- 2010 and focused on creating and implementing policy that was land-related[3].

-       Deeds registry for land registration was decentralized to 9 regions in order to reduce processing time.

-       38 Customary Land Secretariats (CLS) were established to improve management and record keeping related to land.

-       Started and conducted land use planning.

-       Reduced backlog of land dispute cases.

-       Tested land title registration in urban areas and demarcation of customary land boundaries.

-       Codified land rights in 20 traditional areas.

Phase 2

Occurred in 2013 – 2016[3].

-       Improved land administration framework.

-       Decentralized and improved business and service delivery processes.

-       Improved special data and maps needed for land administration.

-       Developed human resources and strengthen project management.

An affected stakeholder (Cocoa farmer) in Ghana

The cocoa farmers:

The cocoa farmers in Nyame Nnae and Ghana as a whole are affected stakeholders because livelihood depends on the outcome of their crops. If their crop dies or does not make them money, they can lose their tenure agreement and an income. There are around 800,000 smallholder cocoa farmers with tenure agreements on customary ruled land[5]. The average net annual income of the farmers is between $983.12 - $2627.81[5]. In Ghana, this is not enough income to supply a whole family and maintain a farm. The replanting of crops could allow for an increased income. However, if the farmer gets fired, loses tenure or is not producing enough cocoa to sell, their children suffer. Children of farmers in poverty are more likely to be a part of child labour and not get an education[5].

The land owners (Stool):

Although the land owners usually do not farm the land themselves, they lease or have sharecropping agreements that get people to farm it for them. The land is still a source of income for them and is their customary land, thus directly making them dependent on the land. They may have other sources of income but as most of the owners are chiefs or aborigines, their land is important to them[1]. The land owner is trying to make as much money from the land as possible. One of the reasons why the tenure agreements tie farmers to current crops is for the land owner to negotiate tenure with someone else in a shorter time than the original tenure was supposed to last[3]. USAID found that farms actually do better when the farm has inputs and the farmer can make decisions including replanting[1]. Educating the landowners and training farmers help with their livelihood and sustainability of the cocoa farm[1].

Ghanaian government:

Cocoa is Ghana's most important agricultural crop[3]. With cocoa accounting for more than 9% of their agricultural GDP, cocoa production in Ghana is vital to their economy[3]. One of USAID’s objectives in the Ghanaian cocoa sector is for economic growth in their efforts to clear up land-tenure related constraints[3]. The Ghanaian government is not directly dependent on the cocoa sector because they can find an alternative for economic contribution and their country will not die without it. Since the government only owns roughly 40% of all land that cocoa is produced on and only 20% of total land, they do not have as much influence on the majority of the production and thus, are not affected stakeholders[5][3].


Cocobod is a public board for cocoa curated by the Ghanaian government[3]. Its purpose is to act as a central administrative body to govern all aspects of the cocoa industry in Ghana[3]. The board’s main objectives include improving efficiency and sustainability of cocoa production along with modernizing Ghana’s cocoa sector[3]. Cocobod is an interested stakeholder because they oversee all cocoa production in Ghana so, they are not fully dependent on Nyame Nnae.

World Cocoa Foundation:

The WCF is an interested stakeholder because they are a world-wide non profit membership organization encompassing over 80% of the world’s cocoa sector[8]. They are not directly affected by a small community such as Nyame Nnae but are interested in the general scope of the cocoa sector. They are actively trying to improve sustainability and reforestation in Ghana through working with NGO’s and raising awareness about the importance of cocoa trees and the importance of forests in areas where cocoa grows in relation to climate change.


USAID is an agency that is from the United States that funds and supports international development. They operate on a wide range of issues and are not affected by the outcome of Nyame Nnae. This makes them an interested stakeholder. They helped create the LAP which has improved tenure security all around Ghana including in Nyame Nnae which makes the workers on that project interested but not affected.

Cocoa Supplier ECOM:

ECOM is a cocoa supplier and is a globally ranked cocoa merchant. ECOM has teamed up with other large social groups and companies to help farmers in Nyame Nnae tackle the lack of cocoa yield and increasing environmental problems caused by poor farming practices and lack of tenancy documentation[2]. In a plan titled the Nyame Nnae project, ECOM has played a role in helping locals document customary land agreements and paying the initial costs of replanting seeds on fallow land[2]. Considering that ECOM obtains cocoa from other parts of the world, this situation in Nyame Nnae does not heavily affect them, making them interested stakeholders.

Hershey and other Cocoa buyers:

Hershey and other Cocoa buyers play an important role in Ghana’s cocoa industry by being one of the main consumers hence benefiting from and supporting the cocoa industry greatly. As of recently, large scale cocoa buyers such as Hershey have been working with other parties such as ECOM and USAID in efforts to find ways to increase land tenure security for cocoa farmers[2]. Although, Hershey and other cocoa buyers heavily rely on the cocoa production from Ghana, they do not specifically depend on the village of Nyame Nnae, making them an interested stakeholder.

In Nyame Nnae, 71% of farmers had the full ability to make decisions regarding management[1]. 24% of farmers could not make management decisions[1]. The farmers able to make management decisions were able to cut and replant their crops without the fear of losing their tenure. However, the 24% that could not make decisions could not cut and replant without the fear of losing their tenure. This resulted in less sustainable and less productive farms due to the abundance of old trees. Out of all of the farmers, the main reason to not replant was because of financial reasons[1]. Only 32% of all farms had replanted and most farmers wait until their crop is almost completely dead and unproductive. Part of this is due to the fact that even if the farmer had management decision making power, they could only cut the trees if they were dead or diseased[1]. Even out of the 76% that had decision making power, few farmers had the power to cut and replant whenever they wanted and could only do so when trees were diseased[1]. What USAID found is that the farms with the most success were from farmers that had diseased trees but had replanted and had access to finances to replant[1]. One of the biggest problems is the fact that many of these tenure agreements were undocumented. The landowners thought that terminating tenure and negotiating with someone else would bring them more money[1]. The confusion of verbal agreements worked in favour of the landowners, allowing them to terminate farmers' tenures when the crops died. Crops dying can be attributed to age or disease. It is estimated that 40% of global cocoa production per year is lost to pests and disease[8]. Inputs such as pesticides cost money, money that farmers do not have. With cocoa production being seasonal, income from the farm is not year-round[5]. Paying for inputs on top of food, housing and education for kids become difficult. Cocoa farmers' children are more likely to be a part of child labour than others[5]. Improving income is a major issue in Ghana's cocoa farms, but with more productivity comes more income, so solving productivity and longevity of farms is vital to keep farmers out of poverty. Ghana is also home to natural rainforest, a biodiversity hotspot. From 1988-2007, 2.3 million hectares of rainforest were cleared for cocoa farming alone in Ghana and Côte D'Ivoire[9]. WCF is trying to help protect and restore the rainforest by educating and training farmers in sustainable farming for their cocoa trees[9].

The group that has the most power in this case study is the Stool or the aboriginal people that own the customary land in Ghana. They have final decision making power over their customary land as opposed to the government having that power. There is still an issue in this setup since the chiefs are the usual owners of the land and since they can get income from the land by giving someone else tenure to farm, they do not farm as much. This causes a dynamic of farmers that have some strands in the bundle of rights on the land but do not have complete decision making power. Without that power, the farmers do not have tenure security and do not make long term decisions that would help sustainability and longevity of the cocoa farms. The power is held in the land owners because even when land tenure agreements are made, they are not made legally or documented, giving the landowner freedom to do whatever they please.

With the work of Cocobod and USAID, mapping and documenting tenure agreements, tenure security has improved. Further, the help of Cocobod paying landowners to allow replanting even though the original tenure agreement tied the farmer to the original crop, has also improved security. This has shifted some of the decision making power from the land owners to the farmers. Farmers having an incentive to make more money to get out of poverty and now having improved decision making powers can help the cocoa farms become more productive in the long run. The farmers that have more decision making power that replant their old, dying crops generate more money for the farmer and the landowner[1].

In order to improve Nyame Nnae’s cocoa industry’s productivity and sustainability, further improving tenure insecurity is a major focus. There have been instances where there was a lack of proper mapping which led to confusion and inaccuracy of ownership[3]. The introduction of cohesive mapping has occurred but still needs improving. The maps are to be produced clearly, stating the boundaries and areas of ownership. As well, they’re all done in the same form, located in the same database. Documentation of every tenure agreement should be achieved. This allows farmers to have a secure and accurate documentation of their land tenure. Continuing to enforce these legal documents is vital to keeping some decision making power for the farmer. To help with enforcement, more farmers must be educated on the importance of tenure security, otherwise, they might be unaware of the future restrictions their tenures hold. An educated farmer would get the agreement legally documented before they start farming on Stool land. Thus, educating more farmers on the importance of documentation is another form of recommended action. Another recommendation to improve the amount of legal documentation is to decentralize the legal aspects of the tenure agreements, making the documentations in more local areas, more accessible to farmers. This would raise awareness and decrease verbal tenure agreements.

Another step towards better tenure security is the collaboration with NGOs. With having the support of NGO’s, farmers can have a bigger voice and extra funding such as Cocobod paying landowners in efforts to allow farmers to replant safely and ECOM offering to help pay for replanting[2].  NGO’s such as USAID teamed with Cocobod and WCF to the Land Administration Project that aimed to improve land security[3]. NGO’s teaming up on other issues such as women’s rights, reforestation and biodiversity loss could be helpful in that area.

Additionally, another recommendation would be the implementation of monitors and regulators similar to the patrollers monitoring the harvesting of matsutake mushrooms in Naidu Village, China[10]. Instead of Cocobod having few quality control checks, other farmers in the area check up on each other's farms. The quality control and the assurance that farmers are not over picking (?) will help keep the farmers as price-makers and promote sustainable farming.

Taken together, the consideration of these actions will lead to the improvement Nyame Nnae’s cocoa industry as well strengthen the farmer’s land and tenure security.

  1. 1.00 1.01 1.02 1.03 1.04 1.05 1.06 1.07 1.08 1.09 1.10 1.11 1.12 1.13 1.14 1.15 1.16 1.17 1.18 1.19 1.20 1.21 1.22 Roth, M., Antwi, Y., O’Sullivan, R., & Sommerville, M. (2018). Improving tenure security to support sustainable cocoa – Final report & lessons learned. Washington, DC: USAID Tenure and Global Climate Change Program.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 2.7 Peyton, N. (2018, August 30). Can land rights for farmers save Ghana's cocoa sector? Retrieved from https://www.reuters.com/article/us-ghana-cocoa-landrights/can-land-rights-for-farmers-save-ghanas-cocoa-sector-idUSKCN1LF16X.   
  3. 3.00 3.01 3.02 3.03 3.04 3.05 3.06 3.07 3.08 3.09 3.10 3.11 3.12 3.13 3.14 3.15 3.16 3.17 3.18 3.19 3.20 3.21 3.22 3.23 3.24 3.25 3.26 3.27 3.28 3.29 3.30 3.31 3.32 3.33 3.34 3.35 3.36 3.37 3.38 3.39 3.40 3.41 3.42 3.43 3.44 U.S. Agency for International Development. (2015). Assessment of land tenure-related constraints to cocoa productivity in Ghana. Washington, DC: USAID, World Cocoa Foundation.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Appiah, M., Blay, D., Damnyag, L., Dwomoh, F. K., Pappinen, A., & Luukkanen, O. (2007). Dependence on forest resources and tropical deforestation in Ghana. Environment, Development and Sustainability, 11(3), 471–487. doi: 10.1007/s10668-007-9125-0
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 5.5 5.6 Cocoa Initiative. (2017). Cocoa Farmers in Ghana Experience Poverty and Economic Vulnerability. Retrieved from https://cocoainitiative.org/news-media-post/cocoa-farmers-in-ghana-experience-poverty-and-economic-vulnerability/.
  6. Abdulai et al. (April 2018) Characterization of Cocoa Production, Income diversification and shade tree management along a climate gradient in Ghana. 13(4)DOI:10.1371/journal.pone.0195777
  7. Menzies, N. K. (2007). Chapter 3: Jozani Forest, Ngezi Forest, and Misali Island, Zanzibar. In Our forest, your ecosystem, their timber: communities, conservation, and the State in community-based forest management. New York: Columbia University Press.
  8. 8.0 8.1 Flood, J., Guest, D., Holmes, K.A., Keane, P., Padi, B and Sulistyowati. (2004). Cocoa under attach. In: Cocoa Futures. A Source Book of Some Important Issues Facing the Cocoa Industry. Eds. J Flood and R. Murphy. The Commodities Press. pp. 33-53.
  9. 9.0 9.1 Bisseleua, H. D., Grant, C., & Budiansky, E. (2019). Cocoa & Forests Initiative. Retrieved from https://www.worldcocoafoundation.org/initiative/cocoa-forests-initiative/.
  10. Menzies, N. K. (2007). Chapter 2: Naidu Village, Yunnan Province, China. In Our forest, your ecosystem, their timber: communities, conservation, and the state in community-based forest management. New York: Columbia University Press.
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This conservation resource was created by Riley Pang and Christopher Chan. It is shared under a CC-BY 4.0 International License.
source: https://wiki.ubc.ca/Course:FRST370/Exploring_the_cocoa_tree_decline_in_Nyame_Nnae,_Ghana_and_the_complications_of_tree/land_tenure_that_smallholder_farmers_are_facing

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