Ghana is a major player in the global cocoa industry, with a market share of over 20%. Cocoa farming is deeply embedded in the country’s Guinean forest region and influences the socio-cultural systems, formal and informal institutions, and forest cover. The Ghanaian cocoa sector, worth USD 2 billion/year, supports the livelihoods of millions. The sector also holds immense potential to contribute to nature recovery and emissions reduction; however, this remains untapped as policy actors have yet to find the right combination of policies and incentives that allow cocoa farmers to cultivate cocoa in harmony with trees under agroecology and agroforestry and realise complementary benefits. In contrast, cocoa farming destroys about 30,000 ha of Ghana’s forests annually, with farmers clearing forests to farm in order to cope with multiple threats, including, poverty, low productivity, food insecurity, and climate shocks. Also, cocoa farmers are imperilled by legal reforms underway within the European Union, United Kingdom, and the United States to ban the import of cocoa from deforested areas although many such areas are private lands that farmers have legal right to cultivate.

Many actors, including the Ghanaian government, companies, multiple NGOs and multilateral funding agencies have over the last few years started some reforms to mitigate deforestation and cocoa and harness its potential for nature recovery and emissions reductions. These initiatives, including the Ghana Cocoa Forest REDD+ Programme and Cocoa and Forests Initiative, need to be centred around local communities to ensure they succeed and deliver equitable outcomes. Doing so requires policy actors understand of the diverse values and interests at stake, properly valorise farmers’ contributions to nature recovery in cocoa, document and trace potential impacts of reforms promoted by these interventions, and develop pragmatic solutions that enable positive action at farm-level while stimulating collection action among farmers at the landscape level.

Our research in Ghana will engage the diverse array of policy actors engaged cocoa landscape reform from village, national, and international levels through a multi-level governance framework, rendering more visible the critical, and yet often neglected, social dimensions of nature recovery in cocoa. This will ensure that nature recovery in cocoa delivers equitable results across scale and geographies.