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Can land rights for farmers save Ghana's cocoa sector?

Can land rights for farmers save Ghana's cocoa sector?

Since Emmanuel Agyekum took over a decade ago as chief of Nyame Nnae, a poor cocoa farming village in western Ghana, people's incomes have fallen and his worries have increased.

The cocoa trees planted behind wood-plank houses are getting old, and produce only a fraction of what they used to.

Last year, money ran out between harvest seasons and people struggled to buy food.

"The cocoa trees are dying and it is a worry to us all," said Agyekum, sitting in a plastic chair in a dirt yard.

Cocoa yields are declining across Ghana, the world's second-biggest producer after neighbouring Ivory Coast, where about 800,000 family farmers supply cocoa beans to chocolate companies such as Hershey's and Nestle, according to the government.

The industry regulator, Cocobod, has encouraged farmers to clear away old trees and replant. But under the traditional agreements that govern rural land use, a farmer's land rights are tied to the crops he is growing.

Cutting down the cocoa can mean losing your lease, said Paul Macek of the World Cocoa Foundation (WCF), which represents over 100 of the biggest companies.

"Land tenure is a risk for any smallholder farmer," he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

"As a result of the customary arrangements, sharecroppers are very reluctant to make investments in rehabilitating old farms. Even if the situation is desperate, they really have no incentive to do that."

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