Cocoa production is essential to the health of Ghana’s economy, contributing 3% to its gross domestic product and supporting the livelihoods of approximately 4 million farming households (GSS, 2015). Ghana represents the gold standard for cocoa quality and is one of the world’s largest producers, yet the sector’s yields remain stubbornly low. Young people are a key part of the solution to revitalising Ghana’s cocoa sector. A total of 20% of the population is aged 15–24, and 27% of young people are not in education and do not work (Pasanen, 2016). Today, the average cocoa farmer in Ghana is over 50 years old – an advanced age in a country where the average life expectancy is just 62 years and cocoa is produced by means of manual labour. Rejuvenating the cocoa sector therefore has the potential to support youth employment, increase rural incomes and boost Ghana’s economy at large. The status quo raises important questions about why young people are seemingly not participating in, or benefiting from, the cocoa sector. This paper presents young people’s experiences of growing up in Ghana’s cocoa belt, by describing their transitions from childhood to adulthood. It then identifies key barriers to their involvement in the sector and highlights opportunities to promote their participation and increase their cocoa yields.
A sector in need of rejuvenation Until the 1970s, Ghana was the world’s largest cocoa producer. Production levels began to fall in 1964, after the state Cocoa Marketing Board (today the Ghana Cocoa Board, or COCOBOD) lowered the price paid to farmers for their produce. With reduced profits, farmers invested less in production, which lowered yields. Between 1964 and 1983, national cocoa production levels fell from 591,000 to just 159,000 MT. It was only once the macroeconomic consequences of this decline were felt in the 1980s that serious measures were introduced to reinvigorate the sector (Williams, 2009). The Cocoa Marketing Board responded by increasing the price paid to farmers for their produce. Therefore, in the 1980s and 1990s, farmers began to increase their cocoa output by expanding land used for cocoa farming. Even so, yields remained relatively low owing to poor agronomic practices, declining soil fertility…….