Cocoa – a Pivotal Cash Crop for Millions of Smallholder Farmers with many challenges

With an estimated annual turnover of US $12 billion, the cocoa sector is an important source of income for millions of farmers across Africa, Asia, Latin America and Oceania. Chocolate consumers worldwide are dependent on smallholder farming production in developing countries.

Over 90% of the worldwide cocoa production is grown on small family farms of less than five hectares. The crop provides a livelihood for between 40 – 50 million farmers, rural workers and family members worldwide, but it is a precarious livelihood. The vast majority cocoa beans are priced on the global commodity exchanges that fluctuate constantly for a myriad of reasons, all of which are outside of the farmer’s control. In addition to the uncertainty of the price they will receive from season to season, farmers constantly struggle to control pest and disease infestations with outdated cocoa farming practices and aging trees that conspire to lower yields to unsustainable levels. Climate change is further worsening the situation by causing changes in temperature and precipitation, increasing frequency and intensity of extreme weather events as well as pest and disease infestations. 

Left on their own, farmers face a dire situation. It’s a downward spiral where the return on cocoa production does not justify further investment in new planting material and cultivation methods, both of which are needed to maintain their livelihoods. It is feared that the farmers exodus from cocoa will only accelerate for the next generation unless cocoa farming changes to be more lucrative and secure for farmer livelihoods.