Joseph Wemakor: Large corporations supported by the government must end the abhorrent exploitation of Ghanaian cocoa farmers

The cocoa industry is one of the most important sectors in Ghana, contributing significantly to the country’s economy. Ghana is the second-largest cocoa producer globally, with around 800,000 cocoa farmers. However, despite its importance, the industry faces a critical issue that threatens the livelihoods of cocoa farmers – the heinous exploitation of Ghanaian cocoa farmers by large corporations, which is encouraged by the government.

Large corporations buy cocoa beans from Ghanaian farmers at extremely low prices, paying them only a fraction of what they should be earning. Cocoa farmers have no bargaining power, and they have to accept the low prices offered by these corporations, as they have no other buyers. To make matters worse, Ghanaian cocoa farmers are not paid in cash but in kind, receiving only a portion of their earnings while the remainder is kept by these corporations.

A study by Oxfam has found that more than 400 cocoa farmers in Ghana say their net income has fallen by an average of 16 per cent since 2020. For women, revenue has fallen by almost 22 per cent.

The report by Oxfam, published in anticipation of World Fair Trade Day on 13 May, says that nine out of 10 farmers are in worse shape than before the pandemic, while the four largest chocolate producers – Hershey, Mondelez, Nestlé and Lindt – have increased their profits by 15 billion dollars.

“A lot of money is made from chocolate, but this is not the case for most cocoa farmers in Ghana,” says Bart Van Besien, policy officer at Oxfam Belgium.

“They work very hard and bear many risks and the increasingly high costs of growing cocoa, but they can’t even earn a living income for their families. The focus of the chocolate giants is mainly on producing more and more. But if the farmers don’t get a fair price for their cocoa beans, ‘sustainable’ or ‘exploitation-free’ chocolate remains a goal we will never reach.

” The Oxfam report Towards a Living Income for Cocoa Farmers in Ghana examined the sustainability programmes of 10 of the largest chocolate manufacturers and traders in Ghana.

The companies say they want to focus on increasing cocoa production. However, Oxfam’s research shows the opposite. Crop yields from cocoa farmers in the companies’ supply chains have fallen by as much as 25 per cent since 2020. The companies’ strategy to increase production is inadequate for farmers to achieve a living income or cover costs for food or other basic needs such as clothing, housing, and medical care. Ghana produces about 15 per cent of the world’s cocoa beans.

It is the world’s second-largest producer of cocoa beans but receives only about 1.5 per cent (2 billion dollars) of the chocolate industry’s estimated annual value of 130 billion dollars. About 60 per cent of all cocoa in the world goes to Europe.

The exploitation of cocoa farmers has long been a problem in Ghana, and the government, instead of addressing the issue, has encouraged it. The government obtains a percentage of the profits made by these corporations, and this has led to the government turning a blind eye to the plight of these farmers. With an estimated 60% of cocoa farmers living below the poverty line, the issue is critical, and the government should be acting to ensure that these farmers receive a fair and just price for their cocoa beans.

The exploitation of cocoa farmers has far-reaching effects, and it’s not only limited to economic implications. It also has environmental implications. Cocoa farmers in Ghana resort to unsustainable farming practices such as slash and burn, which destroy the environment. With the low prices offered for cocoa beans, the farmers cannot afford to invest in environmentally sustainable farming methods. The environmental damage is further compounded by the fact that the government has also encouraged the clearing of forests for cocoa plantation expansion.

In addition to low prices, cocoa farmers also face other challenges. They lack access to essential resources such as fertilizer, good-quality seedlings, and training, which are crucial to growing high-quality cocoa beans. They also lack access to market information, which puts them at a disadvantage when negotiating prices with buyers. The government has a key role in addressing these issues, but it has failed to do so, leading to the current dire situation of cocoa farmers in Ghana.

The exploitation of cocoa farmers in Ghana has led to a decline in the quality of cocoa produced. As they cannot afford to invest in good quality seedlings and fertilizer, the quality of their cocoa beans is affected, leading to lower prices. This downward spiral has made it almost impossible for farmers to make a decent living from cocoa farming, and many have had to abandon the industry altogether.

The situation of Ghanaian cocoa farmers is dire, and urgent action is required from all stakeholders to address the issue. The government must prioritize the needs of the farmers over its share of the profits made by these corporations. The government should create policies that protect the welfare of cocoa farmers and provide them with access to essential resources. These policies should be enforced to ensure that the farmers receive a fair price for their cocoa beans.

The media plays a crucial role when it comes to exposing to light issues of wrongdoings, corruption and exploitation among others.With regards to reporting on the exploitation of cocoa farmers by large corporations in Ghana and Ivory Coast for that matter Africa, the media’s role is key in bringing about change. Through in-depth investigative journalism, the media can uncover and reveal the harsh realities faced by these farmers, who often work under difficult conditions and receive low wages. By shining a light on these injustices, the media can bring attention to the issue and put pressure on corporations to improve the situation for the farmers. Through their reporting, the media also has the power to educate the general public on the impact of their consumer choices and inspire them to demand fair and ethical practices from the chocolate companies they support.

Human Rights Reporters Ghana (HRRG), a vibrant advocacy group which brings together young journalists, editors, lawyers and human rights activists to advance human rights must also demonstrate its commitment to the cause and support the advocacy to bring an end to the injustices being perpetrated against the poor cocoa farmers and put pressure on the governments to ensure their welfare and rights are protected.

Corporations that exploit cocoa farmers should also be held accountable for their actions. These corporations should be required to pay fair prices for cocoa beans and provide farmers with access to essential resources. They should also invest in sustainable farming practices to protect the environment and ensure the longevity of the cocoa industry in Ghana.

In conclusion, the exploitation of Ghanaian cocoa farmers by large corporations, encouraged by the government, is a grave issue that threatens the livelihoods of these farmers and the sustainability of the cocoa industry in Ghana.

Urgent action is required from all stakeholders particularly the media, human rights advocacy groups, government and corporations to protect the rights of cocoa farmers and ensure that they receive a fair price for their cocoa beans. Sustainable farming practices should also be encouraged to protect the environment and guarantee the longevity of the industry.

By Joseph Kobla Wemakor

The writer is a staunch human rights activist, National SDGs Champion and Founder/Executive Director of Human Rights Reporters Ghana (HRRG)

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