Private sector certification programmes and socio-ecological changes in the cocoa landscapes of Ghana: A political ecology study

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David Amuzu, December 17th 2021, Institute of Geography and Durability (IGD)

In Ghana, private sector chocolate firms are operating alongside the state challenging decades of state-controlled cocoa sector. While this alternative market network enables chocolate firms to restore and maintain their market legitimacy in the global value chain, the influence of this new dynamic on local supply chain actors, the state’s strong hold on the sector and the complex rural agrarian communities in Ghana remain unknown. Through the lens of political ecology, this thesis evaluates the power relations between the state, private chocolate firms and smallholder farmers, and the extent to which those relations produce socio-environmental changes in rural cocoa communities of Ghana.

The main findings are that firms co-opt local agrarian institutions at the initial stage, and then when the certification programme takes roots, they tend to transform and displace local institutions and practises. Also, private sector firm mobilises certification incentives to obfuscate the state’s poor and unsuccessful relations with farmers. At the same time, the incentivisation mechanisms produce altered and uneven distribution of benefits, production and bureaucratic costs, market leakages, environmental theft, unjust gendered labour relations, enhanced labour workloads and exploitation. Moreover, the thesis found and argues that while a firm governs local agrarian context and facilitates smallholders’ access to productive resources and benefits, certain unjust local realities (social practices and conditions) are left undiagnosed and untreated by the certification programme. Furthermore, the thesis shows that farmers’ conservation practises in cocoa farms are shaped by diverse local contextual factors, such as hybrid cocoa tree variety, continuous rehabilitation of cocoa farms, access rights in trees and labour relations, illegal logging, proliferation of small-scale sawmill and timber concessions policies of the Forestry Commission. The persistent influence of these drivers is a result of certain historical and ongoing political and economic forces.

The thesis concludes that as long as those contradictions about the certification programmes exist, there is nothing sustainable and ethical about the cocoa a firm source from smallholders through this alternative market network. Hence, it is imperative to scale up the benefits, eliminate the burdens and curtail the constraints that mar the “sustainability” aspect of the certification programmes.

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