Bridging the gap: land tenure security and sustainable cocoa production

Stakeholders from Ghana’s cocoa sector came together to negotiate changes to land tenure practices that will support better cocoa farming practices, as part of the Advocacy for Change for Sustainable Cocoa Landscapes initiative.

Stakeholders gathered for Ghana's first ever Round Table on Sustainable Cocoa

Smallholder tenant farmers in Sefwi Wiawso, a major cocoa-growing area in the Western North region of Ghana, can finally heave a sigh of relief after the resolution of a decade-long dispute with traditional landowners over the implementation of a new land-lease agreement. 

The dispute had slowed down cocoa rehabilitation and intensification efforts in the area, which covers 614,000 hectares of land and contributes about 50 per cent of the country's cocoa production volumes.

“We lived in fear of losing our cocoa farms because of the unfavourable conditions in the initial lease agreement proposed by the landowners,” says Nana Kwadwo Agyei, president of the Smallholder Tenant Farmers’ Association in Sefwi Wiawso.

Land ownership

The customary land tenure arrangement is a common landholding system in most rural areas in Ghana. Customary lands are managed and allocated by traditional or customary leaders such as chiefs, clan heads or family heads. The arrangement is characterized by oral agreements between the landowner and the prospective tenant farmer, with little consideration for documentation. The lack of a written agreement as proof of ownership usually weakens the rights of farmers to lay claim to their farmlands when conflicts arise.

When farmers do not have secured ownership rights to their farmlands, they show no interest in making long-term investments to rehabilitate old and diseased cocoa farms or engage in sustainable land-use practices like maintaining trees on-farm. This has the potential to affect Ghana's future cocoa production volumes.

Advocacy for change

To improve the land tenure and ownership security issues in the Sefwi Wiawso traditional area, Solidaridad, through the Advocacy for Change for Sustainable Cocoa Landscapes project, organized and facilitated negotiation meetings, which included the first-ever roundtable, to bring consensus. The discussions included the tenant farmer groups, landowners, representatives from the Ghana Cocoa Board, Lands Commission, Forestry Commission, Office of the Administrator of Stool Lands, and other civil society organizations.

Prior to the negotiations, the tenant farmers and the landowners received training on advocacy, Ghana’s land policy, governance and tenure security to deepen their understanding of land documentation processes. The project also provided legal and technical support to ensure that the provisions discussed during negotiations were within the legal framework that regulates land use in Ghana. Chairman of the Land Committee of the Sefwi Wiawso Traditional Council, Nana Kwao Asante Bediatuo, commented that the negotiations have mended the strained relationship that existed between them and the farmers.

After years of contestations, we have finally agreed to a 50-year occupancy period subject to automatic renewal under terms that favour both sides.” -Nana Kwao Asante Bediatuo

For the smallholder tenant farmers,  the new agreement affords them the opportunity to farm without the fear of losing their farmlands. “We are activated to rehabilitate our cocoa farms, thanks to the new agreement. We are happy that now our relationship with the landowners has improved due to this Solidaridad intervention," says Nana Kwadwo Agyei. 

A collaborative approach

Participants were trained in advocacy and negotiation skills before the convening

Advocacy for Change for Sustainable Cocoa Landscapes is a four-year Dutch government-funded project implemented by Solidaridad in Ghana since 2016. The project focuses on enhancing standards to support the adoption of sustainable-driven interventions in the Ghanaian cocoa landscape. This is done by engaging decision-makers, government agencies, civil society organizations and the private sector to formulate and implement policy reforms on land and tree ownership security to enhance long-term investments in sustainable land-use practices. As an outcome, Solidaridad has advocated policy recommendations that completely devolve on-farm planted trees and naturally occurring tree ownership to farmers through multi-sectoral national platforms.

>Read more about our work in Cocoa.