Sustainable cocoa-forest practices yield carbon credits

Cocoa bill holdings
Photo: Rodney Quarcoo/World Bank.


  • Cocoa farmers in Ghana are improving yields and mitigating climate change by adopting climate-smart cocoa practices while curbing deforestation.
  • Ghana has earned US$4.8million for reducing nearly 1 million tonnes of carbon emissions caused by deforestation and forest degradation – with up to US$45million expected by the end of 2024.
  • Ghana and other countries are generating high-quality, high-integrity jurisdictional carbon credits to realise their climate goals and gain access to international carbon markets.

Three years ago, Adwoa Akyaa’s 15-acre cocoa farm was “nothing to write home about,” she says – and this may once have been true. While Ghana is the second-largest global producer of cocoa, average yields from individual farms remain low. These days, however, Akyaa is among 140,000 farmers adopting innovative practices, revitalising their lands and enhancing their cocoa stocks. They are not only producing more cocoa but also reducing greenhouse gas emissions – and generating carbon credits that are paying dividends.

“It has been a great journey,” says Akyaa, whose farm is in the southern Ashanti Region. She credits Ghana’s programme for reducing emissions from deforestation, forest degradation and enhancing carbon stocks (REDD+) for helping to turn her farm around. “We were taught how to grow shade-trees on our cocoa farms. And due to this, my cocoa trees are very healthy and strong. If you are a farmer, you need to grow shade-trees because they nourish the soil; and in turn, you will get a lot of yield.” 

Going big on climate-smart cocoa

Government’s programme, known as GCFRP, empowers farmers to improve their cocoa plantations. They learn how to plant shade-trees to reduce heat on the ground and increase production; they also learn how to prune effectively and apply other sustainable farming techniques. The programme stretches across 6 million hectares of the West Africa Guinea Forest. It’s an area where agricultural expansion, illegal logging and other pressures have contributed to tree and biodiversity loss, and ultimately to global warming.

The average productivity of cocoa farms in the programme area has increased from 400kg per hectare to 600kg per hectare since 2019. Higher yields of sustainably produced cocoa beans is not only good news for farmers but also for private sector buyers with zero-deforestation supply chain commitments. The growing demand for sustainably sourced cocoa can expand certification processes that can fetch even better prices and more secure livelihoods for climate-smart cocoa farmers.

“The climate smart techniques that make cocoa farming more productive and profitable also make our forest landscapes healthier and better able to capture and sequester greenhouse gas emissions which cause climate change,” says Mr. John Allotey, Chief Executive of the Forestry Commission. “Ghana’s success is showing the world how to decarbonise a global commodity supply chain – literally from the ground up, for multiple benefits.”

Nana Baffour Adjei, the Krontihene (chief) of Assin-Jakai and Assin-Praso, observes that: “The real benefit of this programme is the improvement in cocoa yields; the preservation of our forest; alternative livelihood projects that have helped to diversify income streams; and the renewed interest in sustainable cocoa farming”.

 Training, technology and integrity to measure success

Measuring success by the amount of cocoa beans produced is easy, but measuring carbon emissions reduced through sustainable farming is a far more complicated process. Ghana’s government has used technical assistance and training provided by the World Bank’s Forest Carbon Partnership Facility (FCPF) to strengthen its systems for measuring, reporting and verifying emission reductions. Once verified, emission reductions can be converted into carbon credits that Ghana can use to meet its nationally determined contributions (NDC) under the Paris Agreement.

With trained personnel and trusted methodologies, Ghana is using a combination of remote-sensing technology and ground-based sampling to monitor forest carbon dynamics. This includes gathering state-of-the-art satellite imagery and using tools such as Collect Earth, combined with the expert opinion of highly-qualified and trained interpreters to identify changes in forest cover. Moreover, 168 plots of the national forest inventory inside the Programme area monitor and estimate emission factors.

“Digital technologies are helping us improve accuracy and efficiency, but we also look to local communities to support measurement, reporting and verification of emission reductions and removals. Their intimate knowledge of the local areas helps us define land use dynamics and accurately map the extent of Ghana’s forests and associated land use change,” explains Ms. Roselyn Fosuah Adjei, Director-Climate Change of the Forestry Commission.

Ghana is also working with the World Bank’s PROGREEN to bring 210,000 hectares of cocoa forest landscape within Community Resource Management Areas (CREMAs), an approach that empowers local communities to drive change and shape their nature-resilient futures. This support is specifically aimed at benefitting farmers – 2,855 of whom to date have adopted more sustainable farming practices – and forms part of the World Bank’s sustainable landscape management approach that connects nature-based investments from land to sea. 

REDD+ Carbon Credits Yield Payment

The collective effort is paying off. In January 2023, Ghana became the second country in Africa after Mozambique to receive payments from the FCPF for reducing emissions through REDD+. FCPF paid Ghana US$4.8million for reducing some 972,000 tonnes of carbon emissions during the first monitoring period (June to December 2019) of their emissions reduction payment agreement (ERPA). It specifies that the FCPF will pay up to US$50million for 10 million tonnes of carbon emissions that Ghana reduces through 2024.

The bulk of these payments (69%) will go to farmer groups and local communities like Akyaa’s that are achieving results. These communities have created shaded cocoa systems and are ultimately responsible for halting the expansion of cocoa and food crop farms into forest reserves. They have also helped to reduce illegal logging, illegal mining, and wildfires.

FCPF paid Ghana US$4.8million for reducing some 972,000 tonnes of carbon emissions during the first monitoring period (June to December 2019) of their emissions reduction payment agreement (ERPA).

 A benefit-sharing plan ensures farmers and other stakeholders are fairly recognised and rewarded for their crucial role in reducing emissions. An additional programme supported by the World Bank’s new EnABLE trust fund is further promoting social inclusion of marginalised communities and disadvantaged groups such as women, youth and people with disabilities.

Today, Ghana is establishing a track-record of generating and transacting REDD+ carbon credits at the jurisdictional level. If the country continues to generate high-quality emission reductions at its current rate, up to 10 million additional emission reductions could be available for sale through carbon markets. The FCPF programme supports Ghana to build credibility and experience to transact through carbon markets and gain access to other sources of climate finance.

“Ghana’s rigorous REDD+ process signals to carbon markets that the country is producing high-integrity, high-quality carbon credits,” says Andres Espejo, FCPF Fund Manager. “As Ghana and countries with similar programmes begin to monetise emission reductions through carbon markets, these multiple income streams and finance will benefit the farming communities at the forefront of forest conservation work.”

 The Forestry Commission of Ghana is partnering with the Forest Carbon Partnership Facility, Ghana Forest Investment Programme, Global Environment Facility, PROGREEN, REDD+ and the World Bank to support climate and forest-smart development in Ghana. The World Bank is drawing on this experience as it rolls out its new Scaling Climate Action by Lowering Emissions (SCALE) trust fund to deploy results-based payments in support of just and inclusive decarbonisation across a broad range of sectors.

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