Global Development Institute Blog

Kwame Asamoah, International Development: Globalisation, Trade and Industry MSc alum

The cocoa chocolate industry is one of the most complex industries to understand. While over 4 million smallholder cocoa farmers produce over 4 million metric tons of cocoa beans a year, their national governments receive less than $10bn from an industry worth over $130bn.

I mentioned countries, not the cocoa farmers because, in Ghana, the farmer is entitled to only a percentage of a price they have no hand in setting. Currently, they receive an estimated 65% of the world market price from the sector regulator, although this is an improvement on the 1%, they received in the 1950s.

To the cocoa farmer, sustainability is heavily influenced by economics. The situation-specific issues that underpin what is termed child labour, its misguided definitions and the solution ascribed to it raise a lot more complex questions than quick answers. Value addition, which is suggested by many researchers as the strategy to improve farmers’ livelihoods, also faces many roadblocks that are inadequately explained in academic research papers and the mainstream media. During my master’s studies at GDI, I was regularly frustrated by the inadequate understanding of the cocoa sector by some of the stakeholders that discussed it in research papers and conferences., yet were the ones seen as the “Expert” of the sector. There was also an inadequate representation of the voices of people with lived experience in the sector that could provide context and nuanced explanation to ongoing discussions. It is this inadequate understanding of the sector and the lack of representative voices, that I would argue has led to the development of ineffective sustainable livelihood strategies for cocoa farmers, hence leading to the value captured by cocoa farmers dropping from 16.3% in 1980 to 3%.

So as a cocoa farmer’s son who has managed cocoa related industrial and plantations projects, my complex relationship with the sector offered me a unique perspective and understanding that was not represented in the mainstream discussions. For example, the fact that the cocoa farmer and the indigenous Ghana investor cannot venture into cocoa processing without the consent of a colonial institution in London called the Federation of Cocoa Commerce. So, in the last two years, I started writing about the cocoa-chocolate sector as a syndicated columnist to provide new, heterodox insights that attempt to provide an unconventional explanation to the issues within the cocoa sector. I’ve also tried to offer situation-specific recommendations that suit the political, economic, technological, ecological, and legal environment of the respective stakeholder, especially the smallholder cocoa farmer.

The feedback from the public’s interaction (including cocoa sector professionals and academics) with my articles have been incredibly positive and demonstrated a deep knowledge gap, misinterpretation of data and the lack of other heterodox writers. In 2021 I was invited by the European Union to participate in its roundtables on Deforestation, Traceability and Child Labour in the Cocoa sectors towards developing a country-based solution for the EU. I have also been engaged as a consultant by an Agri-tech start-up to develop a trade and sustainability strategy that can increase their real income and the overall livelihood of over 4,500 cocoa farmers in Cameroon.

So, I have decided to head towards becoming a full-time writer on Substack to bridge the knowledge gaps in the cocoa sector for the public’s benefit. I want to keep advocating for smallholder cocoa farmers around the world and policy changes that make the entire cocoa value chain truly sustainable. So, I have launched a paid newsletter called The Cocoa Diaries where I have commenced publishing a series of articles on the cocoa-chocolate sector. Your paid subscription to the Cocoa Diaries Newsletter will be an incredible boost to pursue this advocacy as a full-time independent job. Subscribers will enjoy an exclusive delivery of my new publications directly into their email inbox, and at least two weeks of exclusive reading access before it’s published in the mainstream media.

Aside from subscribing to my newsletter, I am also available to work on research projects focused on improving smallholder cocoa farmers’ livelihoods, improving local value addition, review of cocoa sector policies, being a member of the board of organisations with an interest in the cocoa-chocolate industry and smallholder farmers’ livelihoods, etc

Thank you very much and I look forward to journeying with you together towards making the cocoa-chocolate sector truly sustainable.

For any further discussion, you can reach me on:


Photo by Kyle Hinkson on Unsplash

Note: This article gives the views of the author/academic featured and does not represent the views of the Global Development Institute as a whole.