Entry: Bill Guyton
Many of the World Cocoa Foundation (WCF) members and partners know about the important research Rebecca Ashley Asare has conducted on cocoa and agroforestry in West Africa. WCF is pleased to have supported her work in Ghana. Over the years, Rebecca has participated in several of our Partnership Meetings and taken countless field trips to work in close collaboration with African cocoa farmers.
We are pleased to report that this week, Rebecca successfully defended her dissertation at Yale University. We congratulate Rebecca for this great achievement and thank her again for her important and on-going contributions to sustainable cocoa. Below is an abstract of her dissertation.
Cocoa Establishment and Shade Management in Ghana’s Ashanti Region: Understanding the Main Factors Driving Farmer’s Decision Processes and Practices
Rebecca Ashley Asare
Ghana is the world’s second largest producer of cocoa beans and cocoa agroforests dominate the country’s humid forest landscape. For more than a century, the cocoa industry has supported smallholder livelihoods and helped to fuel the national economy. In recent years, cocoa agroforestry systems have received considerable attention for their contributions to biodiversity conservation. In West Africa, this research has primarily focused on the diversity of forest tree species, and the economic and social value of cocoa agroforests. However, little research has focused on identifying and understanding the social factors and processes that have not only created, but are responsible for maintaining these systems. Therefore, this research sought to identify and understand the main factors from biophysical, cultural, social, and economic realms driving farmer’s decision processes and practices as they establish and manage young cocoa farms in southern districts of the Ashanti Region. Specifically, this entailed answering five key research questions, which are summarized as: 1) what are farmer’s current practices; 2) what are the main factors driving their decision making; 3) how do incentives and disincentives influence farmer’s selection of timber trees; 4) how do information sources and social variables affect knowledge about shade management; and 5) how does knowledge affect decision making?
The research adopted a social-centric focus, but it integrated theories and methods from the disciplines of social ecology, agroforestry and forest ecology. Overall, the research demonstrates that within the study area, cocoa agroforestry represents a stable resource system that is oriented towards socially bound gainfulness. In creating new farms, farmers intensively clear the land and uniformly plant food crops as initial shade for cocoa seedlings. However, once food crops are harvested, farmers overwhelmingly choose shaded cocoa systems, and rely upon natural processes of forest succession to bring the majority of shade trees into their farms, which are then managed according to two slightly divergent strategies.
Every farming practice was influenced by a combination of inter-related economic, ethnographic and environmental variables; no single factor influenced farming decisions in isolation. The main factors driving farmer’s decision processes include overcoming labor, capital, and socio-institutional constraint, finding the culturally appropriate and ecologically viable balance between sunlight and shade, integrating secondary products into the system, and subconsciously conforming to social patterns at the village or district scale. In selecting timber species, access to wood was the most important incentive as it transcended all of the disincentives associated with logging by private companies in cocoa farms. However, this pattern of decision making appears to rest upon the existence of de facto and not de jure user rights to on-farm timber. Finally, all of the farmers in the study relied upon local information sources; however a positive relationship emerged between higher levels of education, and extra-local sources like experts and the media. The content of farmer knowledge was correlated to villages, as well as information sources, age, and the nature of the information. Yet, knowledge rarely translated directly into practice as there was a very high degree of adaptation. Likewise, no social order variables demonstrated a link to farmer’s adoption decisions, although a farmer’s village did influence the degree to which farmers adapted.
What this dissertation tries to articulate is that farmer’s decision processes are driven and informed by multiple factors, which reflect a desire to reap gains, but in reality demonstrate an effort to nurture productivity, in multiple forms, out of a complex and sometimes unpredictable bio-social farming environment that present farmers with numerous constraints. In establishing cocoa, farmers rely upon the stability that comes from conformity, but as decision making becomes more complex farmers are flexible and adaptive, which result in wide ranging patterns of variation in shade management practices.