Combatting the Cocoa Swollen Shoot Virus: Ghana's Efforts to Revive its Cocoa Industry

Cocoa Bean
Sustainability & Environmental Impact
Food Safety & Quality
Published Feb 27, 2024
The cocoa industry in Ghana faces recovery efforts after a cocoa swollen shoot virus outbreak devastated farms, causing significant yield drops. Further challenges include aging plantations and illegal activities, leading to a notable decline in cocoa output. With a USD 200 million World Bank loan, Ghana aims to restore damaged farms, combat smuggling, and rejuvenate aging plantations. Despite these efforts, cocoa output for 2023/24 is projected to fall well below target, underscoring the need for comprehensive disease management and collaborative initiatives to enhance productivity and resilience.

Impact of the Cocoa Swollen Shoot Virus

The cocoa swollen shoot virus has severely damaged cocoa bean farms in Ghana over the past few years. The cocoa swollen shoot virus decreases cacao yield within the first year of infection, and usually kills the tree within a few years of infection. One of the most devastating afflictions affecting cacao trees, this disease leads to substantial drops in yields, tree mortality, and significant production losses. The impact of the disease has been profound, resulting in the destruction of approximately 500,000 hectares (ha) of farmland dedicated to cocoa cultivation.

As the world's second-largest cocoa producer after neighbouring Ivory Coast, Ghana has experienced a notable reduction in cocoa output due to the cocoa swollen shoot virus. The disease's devastating effects have not only caused economic hardships for cocoa farmers but have also posed significant challenges to the country's cocoa industry as a whole.

Besides the cocoa swollen shoot virus, Ghana's cocoa production has suffered due to several factors such as aging cocoa plantations, challenges posed by illegal mining, and smuggling activities. The aging cocoa plantations have posed productivity challenges, as older trees tend to produce fewer cocoa beans. Furthermore, the cocoa sector has faced threats from illegal mining activities, which can damage cocoa farms and disrupt agricultural operations. The smuggling of cocoa beans across borders has also contributed to the sector's challenges, affecting both production volumes and revenue streams. As a result, Ghana’s cocoa output experienced a notable decline to 600,000 metric tons (mt) in 2022/23, a significant drop from its peak of 1.048 million metric tons (mmt) recorded in the 2020/21 season, based on data from the Ghana Cocoa Board (COCOBOD).

Figure 1: Ghanaian Cocoa Production (2019/20 - 2022/23)

Source: COCOBOD, Tridge

Efforts to Restore Production

The Ghanaian government obtained a USD 200 million loan from the World Bank loan to pursue a range of activities in response to the decrease in cocoa production. A portion of this loan, totaling USD 132.8 million, will be used mostly to restore cocoa farms in Ghana that have been severely damaged by the cocoa swollen shoot virus. Through research and development, this endeavor seeks to improve information about viral strains and restore production to damaged farms.

Under the rehabilitation program, COCOBOD will reclaim disease-infested cocoa farms, cut down and replace sick cocoa trees, and facilitate their growth to a fruiting stage. Once rehabilitated, these farms will be returned to farmers for cultivation. However, the rehabilitation process is anticipated to be time-intensive, requiring a minimum of five years before economic production levels can be restored.

In cooperation with security authorities, attempts to stop smuggling activities have increased as the rainy season, which is favorable for cocoa cultivation, has arrived. The Ghanaian government hopes to sustainably grow the cocoa industry in the nation, protect the livelihoods of cocoa farmers, and revive cocoa output by tackling these issues and funding programs for farm rehabilitation and disease control.

Decreased Output in 2023/24 and the Way Forward

Despite these efforts, Ghanaian cocoa output for the 2023/24 season is projected to fall nearly 40% below the target of 820,000 mt, as reported by COCOBOD, further highlighting the need to combat the cocoa swollen shoot virus through comprehensive disease management strategies and investments in research and development. Additionally, rejuvenating aging cocoa plantations through replanting and farm rehabilitation initiatives is essential for enhancing productivity and resilience in the long term. Furthermore, addressing illegal mining activities and smuggling is crucial for safeguarding cocoa farms and preserving the integrity of the cocoa supply chain. Collaborative efforts involving government agencies, cocoa industry stakeholders, and local communities are necessary to enforce regulations, combat illegal activities, and promote sustainable practices.

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