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The Netherlands-based Royal Tropical Institute (KIT) recently completed a study “Demystifying the Cocoa Sector in Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire” to answer some basic questions around the household demographics of cocoa farmers, food security and nutrition, and crop choices and crop diversification. KIT is releasing the final results of the study on a chapter-by-chapter and weekly basis. Ahead of the complete release, Anna Laven, senior advisor at KIT, was interviewed by Nira Desai, senior director of strategy and learning at the World Cocoa Foundation, and shared insights about KIT’s work and its implications for the cocoa sector.
How did you come up with the idea for this research? What sparked the realization that there was a need for it?
The research evolved from two main ideas. First, working at KIT on sustainable cocoa for a number of years, we felt that the need for a major household study in cocoa growing regions to better understand the relative importance of cocoa in comparison to other crops, the livelihood status of households (and differences between households), and intra-household dynamics. We felt that such a study would provide a solid evidence base to test the many assumptions and beliefs that dominate current discussions.
Secondly, we noticed the lack of robust data and data sharing. Available databases are rarely made available to other researchers, and most studies are based on relatively small or non-representative samples. Without access to quality data, programs, policies, and people may suffer through poor design or targeting. In response, KIT and the partners that funded and supported our research – The Jacobs Foundation, The Sustainable Trade Initiative (IDH), Lindt Cocoa Foundation, UTZ, The French Agricultural Research Centre for International Development (CIRAD), Sudwind Institute and The German Initiative on Sustainable Cocoa (GISCO) – all agreed to provide free access to the database to everyone.
What findings were you most surprised about?
We have so many interesting findings! For example, contrary to some narratives in the media, the world is not running out of cocoa farmers and supply is keeping pace with growth in demand. Our data suggests that younger farmers continue to step into cocoa at a rate that at least replaces older farmers stepping out, and that land under cocoa cultivation is actually steadily increasing. The need for diversification is another hot topic currently in the industry. Yet we find that households for which cocoa is their first or second most important crop (we call those households ‘cocoa-households’) already diversify their crops and income sources, even to a greater extent than non-cocoa households.
In our study we test many other myths. What we see as an important outcome is that our integrated and household-centered approach helps to explain why cocoa, for all its challenges, remains a very attractive option for many households compared with alternative crop options. In fact, households typically see cocoa as a better paying crop than alternatives, and that it allows them to make basic investments and cover costs of living. Our analysis of wealth and poverty certainly shows that cocoa households are not worse off, on average, than non-cocoa households. We are more interested in unleashing the potential of cocoa to improve the livelihoods, rather than focusing on a poverty narrative.
3. What implications do the findings raise for industry, governments and other key cocoa stakeholders?
Most cocoa stakeholders agree that the sector should be more farmer-centered in its approach. Our study supports this (although we would prefer an approach that is household-centered) and can give guidance to the industry and other actors on many aspects, from land to production and marketing issues. We believe that a farm-centered approach starts with a good understanding of cocoa households’ current strategies and rationale, which our study provides. Much of what needs to be done is already well known, such as how to improve productivity through a full package of good agricultural practices. For example, our regression analysis shows the importance of fertilizer and pesticide application, as expected. However, with so many cocoa farmers in rural areas, the question is how to scale interventions in a way that hundreds of thousands of cocoa farmers can get access to the required products and services at an affordable cost. Our research points to well-functioning institutions being important for a well-functioning sector.
4. Did your research shed any light on how effective the work that has been done in the cocoa sector has been to date?
Focusing on intervention areas was not the topic of our research. But, because we chose to focus on households in cocoa growing areas and did a two-stage random sample, our data set can be used as a benchmark for different stakeholders that intervene in the sector to compare the livelihood status of the farmers they work with to other farmers. We did investigate the proportion of those receiving certain support, such as inputs , and we looked at the impact of farmer training. For example, while many farmers have participated in a training in the past five years, this is often only for a day or two, so the effectiveness could be questioned. We attempted to analyze whether certified farmers performed better than non-certified farmers, but this was thwarted by the fact that a high proportion of respondents reported not knowing if they were certified or not. Some who thought they were certified had in fact a certificate of training participation and hence thought this was certification.
5. How can large data sets that identify trends at scale best be used to inform and design programs and policies? In our work we have seen that often solutions are most effective when implemented at an individualized, tailored level?
First, take stock of the many good things the industry is already doing. For all its issues, cocoa is still one of the best supported primary commodities that we work with in Africa and we think the outlook is generally positive. There are some threats on the horizon – deforestation and climate change being two. But these also apply to rural agriculture generally. The greatest opportunities are perhaps in the fact that we have good buy-in from companies who support a sustainable cocoa sector and actively work with NGOs and governments on improving the situation, even if everyone doesn’t always agree on the same pathway. Building and strengthening institutions, from farmer groups and organizations up to government and international cocoa organizations, is important for finding pathways forward.
6. What would you hope that someone would decide to do next with your open database? What other questions remain that you see but which didn’t get a chance to address?
We would love to implement similar research in other cocoa growing countries, both in West Africa, but also in Latin America and Asia. This would allow for very interesting analysis, not only regional analysis but also between households that are organized in different modalities and that produce for different types of markets (e.g. fine flavor). We are also interested in doing similar research for the coffee sector. We simply hope that others will use the research to inform their decision making, and that our approach to open data will prompt others to be equally bold in sharing their databases.
7. If you wanted someone to take one key message away from this study, what would it be?
We are optimistic for the future of cocoa and cocoa farmers. Let’s invest in quality research, share our findings and data, and work together on evidence-based solutions.
The full data set and chapters can be downloaded at https://www.kit.nl/sed/project/demystifying-cocoa-sector/
Suggested citation: Bymolt, R., Laven, A., Tyszler, M. (2018). Demystifying the cocoa sector in Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire. The Royal Tropical Institute (KIT).