Between 90 to 95% of cocoa production is from smallholders on an average cultivation area of one to three hectares. Especially in West Africa, the largest producer of cocoa, the working and living conditions of cocoa farmers and their families are difficult. The income of most cocoa farmer families is below the international poverty line.

Among the challenges to overcome are:

Living conditions of the cocoa farming families

The role of women

Women have a huge role to play in cocoa production. Although they know the work flows and the necessary investments for it, they are subordinate to men and do not participate in investment decisions. The participation in training and certification programs is limited for many women. In addition, women are insufficiently represented in cooperatives.

In Côte d’Ivoire, women own only one quarter (25%) of the cocoa plantations and make up approximately two third (68%) of the labour force in the cocoa sector. Women only earn one fifth (21%) of the income generated.

Young generations

Young generations turn away from cocoa production because of low income and physically demanding work. The bad reputation of cocoa productions threatens the sustainable supply of cocoa.

Abusive forms of child labour

Child labour is officially prohibited in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana, the two largest cocoa producing countries. Still, 1.9 million children between 5 to 17 years old carry out economic activities across all industries. 540,000 of these children do work which is defined as dangerous child labour. 1.2 million children between 5 to 17 years old were involved in dangerous child labour in Ghana in 2013/2014 (GSS 2014).

Child labour is often a problem of poverty as the farmers can hardly employ workers due to their low income.

You can find more information here.



There has been rapid deforestation in Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire in recent years. Amongst other things, these areas are used for cocoa cultivation. However, forest land and trees are of high importance to cocoa production.

More informations in the Forestpaper.


The Cocoa & Forests Initiative was launched in 2017 to prevent further destruction of forests, particularly in Côte d'Ivoire and Ghana. The two leading cocoa-growing countries Côte d'Ivoire and Ghana have joined it, as has Colombia recently, and numerous cocoa and chocolate processing companies, including members of the German Initiative on Sustainable Cocoa. The initiative aims to support governments in the conservation and restoration of forest areas.

More about the Cocoa & Forests Initiative can be found here.

Productivity and quality of cocoa

Depending on region and cultivation practices, the cocoa yield is 1,000 to 2,000 kilograms of dried cocoa beans per hectare. Even higher yields can be expected from specific strains or sources. But there is an exception to the rule. Even if the available data is reliable, the average yield per hectare has been 500 kilograms of cocoa since the early 90s and has stagnated ever since.

The productivity and the quality of the cocoa depend on different factors. Soil fertility and favourable weather conditions for cocoa are basic prerequisites. Further factors are genetics and age of the trees. Generally, a cocoa tree lives up to 100 years and attains best yields at the age of 2 to 40. Regular maintenance and protection of trees against diseases and pests play a major role for the amount and quality of the beans. Otherwise, pest and disease can lead to a considerable or total loss of yields or even of the plantation within a very short time.

Economic conditions

Almost 90% of production comes from smallholders. Usually, their economic situation doesn’t allow them to invest in new plants, fertilizer, pesticides or to pay the much-needed agricultural workers. Improvement approaches are often limited to state-subsidized support or services offered by cocoa cooperatives.

The market does not offer enough incentives. Cocoa is traded as a commodity at international stock exchanges (London and New York). The prices for cocoa are volatile, showing a steep decline in 2017 for the first time in years. Negative impacts on cocoa production are the foreseeable effect.

Nevertheless, cocoa remains an important source of income: Due to the good demand of the global chocolate industry, the beans are easily convertible into cash by smallholders. Furthermore, cocoa can be harvested several times a year in many producing regions.


Climate change is increasingly effecting yields: Plant diseases increase, dry seasons last longer and weather events are more extreme. 

With the help of better agricultural practices and postharvest techniques, the quality of cocoa would increase and the yields would be higher. Thus, more and high-value cocoa could be marketed which in turn would increase the income of the farmers and lay the foundations for better living conditions. With the help of increases in productivity, it would be possible to meet the increasing demand for cocoa without utilizing further cultivation areas.

Cocoa production would be more attractive again for future generations and, in the long run, a stable cocoa supply would be ensured.

Services and farmer organizations

The crucial question in this context is whether the farmers have access to training and practical training and to good planting material and whether they are provided with good possibilities to maintain their fields. The granting of credits and the options to sell their yields at stable prices also highly depend on the prerequisites.

These include aspects to what extent the farmers are organized in the cooperatives, how well the cocoa sector is structured within the country and how policy frameworks in place look like.

There have only been a few functioning cooperatives so far. The market access is difficult for most of the smallholders. Furthermore, badly organized and unclear supply chains complicate marketing and lower revenues for farmers.