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Cocoa and Continuity: Ageing in the Ghanaian Cocoa Sector

‘When I die, it's up to her to decide whether to farm or not.’

With these words, 65-year-old Ghanaian cocoa farmer Felicia Mensah left the decision to continue in the family practice of cocoa farming up to her 28-year-old daughter, Ruth. In Ghana, the world’s second largest cocoa-producing nation, younger generations have turned away from working in the industry. Ruth explains, ‘Farming is tedious and difficult, there are no young people farming these days.’

Felicia and Ruth’s accounts are part of a broader story of the modern cocoa industry in Ghana. While over a third of Ghanians are youths, aged 15-35, the average cocoa farmer is around 55 years old, with a life expectancy between 55 and 60 years. Understanding the challenges and causes of this demographic disparity within Ghana cocoa production is crucial for developing solutions that ensure the industry’s vitality.

The Bitter Reality: Challenges of an Ageing Producer Population

As cocoa farmers age, they often risk losing the physical capacity to manage and expand their farms. Older farmers often struggle with the strenuous activities involved in cultivating cocoa, such as clearing land, planting, and maintaining crops. In addition, older farmers’ reluctance or inability to adopt improved technology further limits their productivity; this situation is likely to worsen following the implementation of EU Deforestation Regulation (EUDR) frameworks. The EUDR aims to prevent products linked to deforestation from entering the EU market, requiring stringent due diligence measures. One measure is polygon mapping, a technique that uses satellite imagery and GPS data to create boundaries of farms. Older farmers are generally less inclined to embrace these new technologies, which are essential for compliance with the EUDR. Consequently, the demographic structure of the industry poses significant challenges to meeting regulatory standards, which may impact the economic stability of farming communities and the national economy at large.

Ultimately, this demographic imbalance threatens the long-term viability of cocoa production in Ghana, a major sector of the nation's export economy. Addressing these issues requires a targeted effort to integrate younger generations into cocoa production. To do so effectively, there is a need to first understand the barriers to youth engagement within the industry.

The Root Causes: Understanding Youth Disengagement


Youth disengagement in cocoa is largely rooted in the negative perception of careers within the industry. Many young people view cocoa production as physically intensive, low-paying, and less prestigious than urban jobs. As a result, work in cocoa production is often seen as a fallback option for those who could not secure employment in other sectors.

Land Access

Access to land also prevents youth from engaging in cocoa production.  In many parts of Ghana, land is controlled by older generations, and acquiring it can be difficult due to traditional land tenure systems and high costs associated with land leasing. Landowners tend to be reluctant to lease to youth, particularly young women, doubting their ability to manage the land effectively. Even when land is available to young farmers, many cannot afford the down payment.

Educational and Professional Aspirations

Finally, youth educational and professional aspirations often act to disincentivize younger people from working in cocoa production. Young, educated Ghanaians aspire to careers that they deem more lucrative and less physically demanding, drawing them away from the rural areas where cocoa producing occurs. In addition, the educational system tends to prepare younger people for white-collar jobs, which does not equip them with the skills needed to become successful in cocoa production.

The Next Harvest: Lessons from the Next Generation Cocoa Youth Program (MASO)

Over the years, several programs have set out to overcome these challenges and promote youth engagement in the Ghanaian cocoa sector. This section focuses one an exemplary program: the Next Generation Cocoa Youth Program (MASO).

The MASO program, implemented by Solidaridad West Africa and other consortium partners from 2016 to 2020, aimed to make careers in cocoa production attractive to Ghanaian youth. MASO targeted youths aged 17-25, equipping them with the skills, tools, and support necessary for success in cocoa production and related businesses.

The MASO program comprises three main components:

  1. CocoAcademy: This farmer incubator trains youth in agronomic practices, along with developing their social, financial, and leadership skills. Participants learn modern cocoa farming techniques, which significantly improve farm productivity and sustainability.
  2. Business Academy: This component supports youth interested in starting businesses within the cocoa value chain. Beneficiaries receive training, technical support, coaching, and mentorship.
  3. Youth Network: This platform connects CocoAcademy and Business Academy alumni, facilitating the spread of ideas and promoting mutual support.

MASO's outcomes were significant: the program increased the likelihood of youth engaging in farming by 21.3 percentage points. Specifically, young women saw an increase of 22.7 percentage points in farming participation, compared to 19.8 percentage points for young men. In addition, the program significantly improved the financial literacy and use of mobile banking among participants. These results demonstrate the impact of practical training and mentorship in enhancing youth engagement in agriculture.


The future of Ghana’s cocoa industry is dependent on its response to its current demographic structure. As older farmers face physical limitations and are less inclined to adopt new technologies, programs like MASO have demonstrated the benefits of attracting and retaining young people in cocoa production. Ultimately, youth engagement serves as a key strategy for the continuity and growth of the Ghanaian cocoa sector, allowing it to continue supporting the national economy for generations to come.

About the author:

Dara Adamolekun was a Visiting Student at the Oxford Institute of Population Ageing. She is a student at Harvard University, where she concentrates in Social Studies with a secondary in Economics.

Opinions of the blogger is their own and not endorsed by the Institute

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