Photo by Ly Le Minh

The global price of cocoa has reached a 44-year peak due to concerns over dwindling cocoa output in West Africa, which is responsible for over 80% of the world's cocoa production. Ghana and Côte d'Ivoire, which contribute over 60% to the global output, have increased the guaranteed producer prices to farmers in response to the price surge. Cameroon, the world's fourth-largest cocoa producer, has also raised the price cocoa farmers receive. As an economics researcher who has studied cocoa production in West Africa, I believe that this moment can be used to strengthen the position of cocoa producers and address the structural challenges ingrained in the cocoa production value chain.

The recent shortages can be harnessed to address the long-term structural issues that have beset cocoa farming in West Africa for decades. One of these issues is the declining availability of forest land, which has led farmers to turn to grasslands for replanting cocoa plants. This requires extensive land preparation, regular weeding around the cocoa trees, pruning, and the application of fertilisers and pesticides, resulting in increased labour costs. None of these additional burdens have been incorporated into the pricing for sustainable cocoa production, leading to undervalued cocoa beans and unsustainable farming practices.

To ensure a living income for cocoa farmers without contributing to deforestation or resorting to child labour, the cost of sustainably cultivating cocoa in grasslands must be reflected in the price that farmers receive. Ghana and Côte d'Ivoire could collaborate with other regional countries, such as Nigeria and Cameroon, to negotiate a better position for their cocoa farmers, ensuring sustainable cultivation. Strategies that could be explored include supply management, price premiums, and value addition.

The crisis in the sector puts cocoa producers in a stronger negotiating position. The recent price surge could prove to be a critical moment for cocoa farming and policy in West Africa. Ghana and Côte d'Ivoire must take the lead and frame the current production challenges as deep-seated structural problems requiring solutions, rather than as short-term issues. By using the cocoa shortage as negotiating leverage against multinational corporations, West African countries can address the long-term structural issues and strengthen the position of cocoa producers.