Crops beyond cocoa offer revenue and diversification for Ghana’s agriculture sector
While cocoa remains the dominant source of agricultural export earnings, a number of other tree crops, including cashew, coffee, coconut, oil palm, mango, rubber and shea nut, have seen promising harvests over the past few years.
In an effort to capitalise on this potential to diversify revenue, the current administration announced the Planting for Export and Rural Development (PERD) programme in April 2019. Once the programme has been implemented and related value chains are in place, it anticipates each of these tree crops could provide up to $2bn of annual export earnings.
To further strengthen the institutional structures of the industry, in 2019 the Tree Crop Development Authority was established. It is set to distribute a total of 11.7m seedlings comprising 5m cashew, 100,000 coffee, 40,000 coconut, 5m oil palm, 100,000 mango and 1.5m rubber seedlings.
This should allow for the establishment of some 88,918 ha of plantations across 212 districts by end-2020. As of September 2019, 91,292 farmers from 4777 communities in 199 districts and 12 regions had received tree crop seedlings through the initiative.
Among the non-traditional export tree crops with the greatest potential, cashew stands out both in terms of volume and value. In 2018 Ghana produced $378m worth of cashew, an increase of 43.8% on the previous year and a 17-fold jump on the $20m produced in 2009.
From a cost perspective, cashew offers attractive returns: its inputs typically cost no more than those required for maize production. As such, it is anticipated that cashew will continue to replace staple crops in the Bono East, Bono and Ahafo regions at a rapid pace.
While these headline figures are promising, much of this recent growth was due to higher global cashew prices triggered by 7% annual demand growth. However, the export value for 2019 is expected to drop, as cashew prices fell by as much 75% early in the year.
This vulnerability to price swings is exacerbated by the fact that the overwhelming majority of cashew farmers are smallholders with limited means to store their product. More than 80% of cashew is sold unprocessed, with 97.8% of the 62,798 households harvesting cashew selling only the raw product.
To better cope with price shocks and generate greater revenue from the segment, the government is planning – via its Investing for Food and Jobs programme (see overview) – to facilitate and support the establishment of a stakeholder-controlled Cashew Marketing Authority.
This dovetails with ongoing efforts to increase production. In 2019, under the existing National Cashew Development Initiative, 220,000 grafted cashew seedlings were developed at 10 nurseries to improve yields and boost exports.
As one of the major producers of shea nuts, Ghana is benefiting from growing worldwide demand for shea butter, fueled by the food and cosmetics industries. There are five shea processing factories in the country, which have a total installed capacity of 150,000 tonnes.
In 2019 the government collaborated with the African Development Bank to set up an additional four processing facilities. This investment comes as exports of shea butter increased in value by 30% in 2018, with Malaysia overtaking the Netherlands as the main importer.
Alongside investment in industrial capacity, the government is supporting scientific agricultural research. In late 2019 a breakthrough was announced that would reduce the gestation period of the shea plant from 20 years to an average of three years.
Given the increased potential of the crop in terms of both supply and demand, the shea head office of the Ghana Cocoa Board, which currently oversees the segment, was moved to Tamale in the north and a secondary office was opened in Wa. A shea regulatory body with an independent revenue model will soon be created to further develop the segment.