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The continued marginalisation of cocoa farmers: from colonialism to contemporary, climate-smart governance

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Smallholders in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana supply >60% of the world’s cocoa to the $103bn chocolate industry. Chocolate corporations rely on low-cost labour and forest land, yet decades of extensive cultivation have deforested the world’s top two cocoa-producing countries. Additionally, climate change threatens cocoa yields. Chocolate corporations respond to these challenges with ‘climate-smart’ cocoa schemes that seek to govern the conduct of Ivorian and Ghanaian smallholders across a national border with divergent histories, languages, and institutions. Despite a highly diffuse producer base comprising 1.7 million heterogeneous farmers, cocoa trade and governance are becoming highly concentrated in the headquarters of oligopolistic chocolate corporations. I discuss smallholder exclusion in ‘climate-smart’ cocoa policy negotiations through Fletcher’s neoliberal environmentality paradigm (2010, 2017), and by drawing on historical precedents to illustrate long-standing power asymmetry in cocoa value chains. Since ‘climate-smart’ cocoa schemes could perpetuate – and by some measures even exacerbate – smallholder marginalisation, I introduce alternative governance mechanisms that integrate landscape and forest management with food security goals and other pro-poor approaches.

This talk is part of the Political Ecology Group meetings series.

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