November 17, 2021

Exploring coffee production in Ghana

Ghana is located on West Africa’s Gulf of Guinea, only a few degrees north of the equator. The country borders Côte d’Ivoire to the west, Burkina Faso to the north, Togo to the east, and the Atlantic Ocean to the south. 

In global agriculture, Ghana is primarily known for being the second largest producer of cocoa in the world. However, it also produces coffee – despite ranking just 42nd globally, among other nations such as Angola and Sierra leone.

To learn more about the burgeoning Ghanaian coffee sector, I spoke to two regional coffee experts. They told me more about the industry, and what the future could hold for this coffee origin. Read on to learn more.

You may also like our article exploring Malawi as a coffee origin.

coffee cherries

A brief history of coffee in Ghana

Robusta coffee is indigenous to West and Central Africa, but the earliest evidence of structured coffee production in Ghana dates back to the mid-18th century.

In spite of more than 250 years’ history, however, Ghanaian coffee production is still comparatively small.

While coffee production was popular in the 18th and 19th centuries, a coffee price crash in the 1980s saw many farmers abandon their farms in favour of cocoa. 

To encourage production, the government established 19 nationalised coffee farms across the country through the 1980s, which were later divided and sold to private farmers. 

Growing demand and a healthy domestic market for coffee has given farmers hope, and in 2001, the Ghana Cocoa Board (COCOBOD) facilitated the development of 2,400ha of new or revitalised farmland for coffee production. 

The board also outlined fair and minimum prices for Ghanaian coffee, providing farmers with increased security. In addition, the Ghanaian government also outlined an aggressive expansion plan in the early 21st century, having doubled national yields from 2006 to 2010, and again from 2010 to 2015.

Furthermore, in 2014, the Ghanaian government approved its Coffee Rehabilitation Program (CRP) which included research, extension services, and the introduction of high-yield coffee varieties. The project has since provided technical and financial support to over 4,500 smallholder farmers, of which 22% are women.

Unfortunately, thanks to the lasting impact of the price collapse in the 1980s, Ghana still remains the third smallest coffee producer in sub-Saharan Africa, behind Liberia and the Central African Republic. 

However, coffee is quickly becoming a promising alternative for smallholder farmers, as it grows more quickly and is easier to maintain than cocoa.

donkey and cart

Ghanaian coffee today

Benedicta Tamakloe is the founder of Bean Masters, a Ghanaian coffee company that operates using an ethical sourcing model. Its aim, Benedicta says, is to support farmers and improve the quality of coffee in Ghana. 

“Ghana is not internationally known as a coffee producer,” Benedicta says. “This is mainly because the production volume is quite low. Really, you need the volumes to put your name on the map and we don’t have the volumes yet.

“We also used to grow arabica coffee in the mountains, but because of the climate and elevation, robusta was favourable,” she adds. “Really, the amount of arabica planted was too little to be of any economic value.”

Cillian Walsh is the owner of Gold Coast Roasters, a company dedicated to sourcing “the finest arabica and robusta coffee beans in West Africa”. He echoes Benedicta’s comments, noting that Ghana’s production plummeted following the crash in the 1980s.

“However, it’s not just the altitude that hinders production,” he adds. “Insect infestation and diseases also mean arabica isn’t worthwhile. We are trying to take the organic farming route.” 

In recent years, he says that part of the government’s expansion plan has been offering free seedlings to farmers. He has also been encouraged by the growth of domestic coffee consumption and a small roasting sector – there is even now a Coffee Roasters Association of Ghana (CRAG).

coffee farm aerial

Ghanaian coffee: A profile

Virtually all Ghanaian coffee is robusta, as the country is broadly low-altitude with a climate unsuitable for arabica production. Much of the country’s farmland sits between 400 and 800 m.a.s.l. – which is not appropriate for cultivating high-quality arabica.

Coffee is mainly cultivated in the Ashanti, Bono Ahafo, Eastern, Central, Western, and Volta regions, with a harvest that starts in September. The country produces around 37,000 60kg bags a year.

Ghanaian coffee producers are mainly smallholder farmers, who have an estimated average yield of 300kg of coffee cherries per hectare.

Farms are on average between half an acre to 1.5 acres in size. However, there are also a few large-scale farms with an estimated average yield of 1,500kg per hectare. Coffee is generally natural processed, sun-dried on raised beds (used normally for cocoa drying) and sold at mills or hulling centres.

All in all, it’s estimated that some 17,000ha of farmland in the country is used for coffee cultivation, and that coffee is a major source of income for around 8,000 smallholder farmers. Many of them have only joined in recent years, following aggressive expansion efforts from COCOBOD.

Furthermore, while Ghanaian robusta isn’t typically considered “fine” robusta, some producers in the country are confident that quality is possible. While the market is still small, there are hopes that this, along with growing production volumes, can help to revitalise the Ghanaian coffee sector. 

coffee beans

Coffee organisations & structure 

As well as being a regulator for cocoa, COCOBOD also oversees coffee and shea production in Ghana.

Since being established in 1947, its focus has been on facilitating growth and development in the sector. It focuses on R&D, seedling production, technical support, inspection and certification, and marketing Ghanaian coffee on the international stage. 

As mentioned, its primary focus since 1980 has been revitalising the country’s coffee sector – slowly but surely.

There are also a few farmer groups in Ghana, some of which own co-operatives. According to Benedicta, many of these are community-based. 

“One example is the Sustainable Coffee Farmers Association,” Benedicta says. “This association has five co-operatives, of which one is totally made up of women.”

However, Cillian says that coffee production in Ghana is still very fragmented. His company belongs to one of many local organisations, through which it sources coffee from around 50 different farmers.

street vendor

International reputation & improving quality

Much of Ghana’s coffee is sold in West Africa and does not appear in official export statistics.

Beyond its immediate neighbours, Ghanaian coffee is not well-known. Pricing is also heavily dependent on coffee production figures in neighbouring Togo and Côte d’Ivoire, whose production figures are much higher.

The coffee that remains in Ghana is sold to local roasters, who must then compete in a market against imported coffee. Even in the domestic market, however, Ghanaian coffee faces challenges – which are often related to quality.

For instance, Benedicta says that farmers usually just strip harvest their coffee, regardless of ripeness. However, she and other organisers are trying to train farmers to hand-pick only the ripest cherries, with the aim of increasing quality and improving prices.

“As for processing, it’s basically just natural sun-drying,” she says. “Farmers use cocoa drying beds in their backyards to lay coffee out in the sun, covering it up in the evening until dry. Then they bag the dry coffee in sacks and store it.

“We are currently looking for expertise to introduce other processing methods to create a niche market for Ghanaian coffee. There is a limited market for sun-dried robusta. We are looking for partnerships to assist with other processing methods.”

After sun drying, farmers take their crop to a hulling centre and sell it to buyers. Benedicta notes that COCOBOD imposes minimum quality standards, and requires everyone involved in the internal and external marketing of coffee from this point to be fully licensed.

However, despite this, there are still issues at this stage, as Benedicta explains.

“Some of the coffee is infested with coffee berry borers, which decreases the quality and thus the price,” she says. “The moisture content also varies a lot.”

Cillian adds: “The roasters’ association is pushing robusta as a specialty product in Ghana. However, there is no quality standardisation in the country, and thus, the minimal volumes exported are drive by around three large growers who sell it as low-quality robusta.”

To get even better prices, the farmers are being encouraged to adopt better practices. These include hand-picking, using dedicated storage, and drying more effectively on dedicated raised beds.

roasted coffee beans

Coffee consumption in Ghana

While Ghanaian coffee production does face challenges, fortunately both Benedicta and Cillian note that consumption is on the rise in the country – meaning a growing domestic market for producers.

“Many Ghanaians now have an acquired taste for coffee from abroad,” Benedicta says. “They are coming back and trying to bring their experiences home, so they are drinking more coffee now.”

As a result, in more urban areas of Ghana (such as the capital city of Accra) the number of coffee shops is growing. 

There is also a small but fast-growing segment of roasters who are roasting and packaging their own coffee, and selling it in neighbouring countries such as Burkina Faso.

“At Gold Coast, we’re also trying to add more value to our coffee in collaboration with hoteliers,” Cillian adds. “A good example is coffee ice cream. We’re also working with chefs in Canada and one in Ghana to produce flavourings for meals and sauces.”

ghanaian forest

What comes next?

According to Benedicta, the biggest hurdle for Ghanaian coffee production is technical knowledge. 

“The [baseline] knowledge is there and the understanding is established. But the technical knowhow for the implementations is lacking,” she says. “There is limited access to technical expertise in the Ghanaian coffee value chain.

“We are introducing the co-operative model, with a goal of having uniform standards across the board. Elsewhere, access to finance is a big issue, and investments are really lacking. We have not made our sector lucrative enough.”

However, with continued efforts from the government, many are hopeful that Ghanaian coffee will start to grow and contribute to the national economy in the near future. When that happens, domestic coffee consumption is expected to rise accordingly.

“We’re already in the process of creating solutions for farmers growing robusta to increase quality,” Cillian tells me. “We are implementing the Kenyan method of grading, and we are paying good prices to the farmers for higher quality coffees.”

And while the country doesn’t have a dedicated coffee farmers’ association, COCOBOD is in the process of creating a division to intensify support for the coffee sector. This, it’s believed, will focus on R&D and market regulation to improve outcomes for Ghanaian coffee producers.

ghanaian beach

Overall, there is room for improvement in Ghana’s coffee sector, and stakeholders are pulling together to drive the industry forward. Things are changing, and the aim of improving coffee quality certainly seems possible.

Better harvesting, better agricultural practices, and better processing are now all becoming more prominent. If this continues, many believe that it is only a matter of time before Ghana boosts its profile as a coffee origin.

“We hope to plant over 150 acres this year,” Cillian concludes. The government hopes to produce over three million seedlings. That’s definitely a start. If we follow that up with some regulations regarding standardisation and quality, I think Ghana has a good future ahead.”

Did you find this story interesting? You should try our article on the Nigerian coffee sector.

Photo credits: Unsplash, Pixabay

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