Dilemma of a cocoa farmer: To keep or cut the trees?

Environment and climate changeTrees and agroforestry

Notes to broadcasters

One way to get farmers talking about their rights to trees and land is to present different stories about farmers and land tenure. The following story is about a cocoa farmer in Ghana who is trying to decide whether or not to leave trees growing on his land. Although the story is fictional, it does represent a situation common to many Ghanain cocoa farmers. It does not offer solutions, but instead raises for discussion the issue of who has the rights to trees and timber. For more information about cocoa farmers and tree ownership in Ghana, please see ‘Farmers’ dilemma: To grow or not to grow trees on farms,’ by Elijah Danso on page 1 of ‘Voices’ (March 2005, Number 74).

Remember in discussions with farmers that tree ownership is one part of the broader issue of land tenure. It is important that farmers understand their rights to trees and other natural resources, and the rights held by the community and local authorities. With this understanding they can make informed decisions that will benefit their farming practices and businesses.



On today’s program we’re going to introduce you to a farmer with a problem. This farmer has to decide whether to keep the trees on his farm, or cut them. Stay tuned to find out why.


Mr. Kwame Alebikiya is a cocoa farmer in the country of Ghana. Like many farmers, Kwame grows cocoa with trees.

When he first cleared his land he left certain trees growing naturally, and planted his cocoa among the trees.

This is the traditional way of growing cocoa.

The trees provide shade for the cocoa – which increases cocoa yields.

Even the most knowledgeable cocoa scientists in the country recommend shade trees for cocoa.

Kwame also benefits from this practice because with the trees and the cocoa and other crops, he has several different products to harvest.

But Kwame is faced with a problem. Although he likes to grow cocoa with trees, this practice also presents him with a difficult choice.

If he continues to tend the trees, they provide shade which increases cocoa yields.

But at the same time, keeping and tending the growing shade trees means they will grow tall enough to be harvested by loggers who have a contract with the local communities and authorities.

Because the trees belong to the community, Kwame will probably not get paid for the trees. If he does get paid, he will not get paid very much. When the loggers remove the trees they will probably damage or destroy his cocoa.

This is a difficult choice. Should he keep the trees or cut the trees? What would you do?


Welcome back. We’ve been talking about Mr. Kwame Alebikiya and his difficult decision: to keep the trees or cut the trees…

If Kwame leaves the trees to grow on his land, they will provide good shade for his cocoa.

However, the rules in Kwame’s community do not give him the right to cut the timber trees, even though they are growing on his land.

Instead, the community and local authorities have given the loggers the rights to the trees, once they are large enough to harvest.

Payment is low, and often slow in coming to the community.

What can Kwame do? How can individuals and the community share the benefits of forest improvement?


Let’s start a discussion about tree ownership that will improve our local environment and our households.

What are the customary laws in our community, and how do they affect you? Please contact us at this station with your comments and opinions.



  • Contributed by Jennifer Pittet, Thornbury, Ontario, Canada.
  • Reviewed by Professor Helen Hambly Odame, Rural Extension Studies, University of Guelph, and by Professor Naresh Thevathasan, Temperate and Tropical Agroforestry Specialist, University of Guelph, Canada.


  • Please see a related script, Who owns the trees?, Developing Countiries Farm Radio Network, Package 55, Script 2, April 2000.