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Case study: Livelihoods and land use at Oda, Western region, Ghana

Source: Moss (2000)

Oda is a village in the heart of a cocoa growing area in a moist evergreen forest area in the south of Ghana where rainfall varies from 1400mm to 1730mm. Population density in the area is low (50 people per square kilometre) and bush fallowing is used to restore soil fertility. However despite the low population land shortages are felt by some members of the community due to the long term nature of the cocoa crop and the alienation of land to settler farmers since the 1960s. It has become difficult to obtain suitable land to establish cocoa, but the poor infrastructure in the region and other factors limit the potential of other cash crops.

Location of Oda within Ghana and West Africa

View information on:

  1. Population
  2. Livelihoods
  3. Farming


The indigenous Wassas dominate the population at Oda with less than 10% of the population coming from other ethnic groups which include Brong, Dagarthi, Fanti and Ewe. The Wassa are a matrilineal people where land use rights are passed from mother to daughter as well as from uncle to nephew. Daily living and farming activities for the majority centre around a nuclear family of husband, wife, children and sometimes nephews. Wives are considered dependent on their husbands but widows and divorcees are independent and make their own decisions.

Farmers at Oda


Farming is the principle occupation for the majority of the adult population of Oda, but livelihoods and land use differ amongst the population depending on age, gender, origin, and marital status. Older men of 35 years and more are married and have children and family responsibilities. Their cocoa farms are already well established and yielding. Younger men below the age of 35 may still be single, or recently married, have young cocoa farms and depend more on other crops for cash. Older women are more likely to have their own farms than younger women, and a proportion of them may be female household heads due to divorce, widowhood and husband's with work elsewhere.

Cocoa tree

Family responsibilities are gender based. Men are responsible for the provision of shelter (i.e. housing) and cater for the family's financial needs. They farm principally for cash. Women raise children, cook and carry out household tasks. Men are said to be responsible for providing food for the household. They give their wives 'chop money' to buy items such as salt and fish. However women spend most time cultivating food crops whilst men tend to mature cocoa farms, and women claim it becomes their responsibility to provide food for the household when there is a shortage of both food and cash.

Young people help their parents and other relatives (often uncles) on their farms prior to starting their own farms. Marriage takes place early, particularly for young women and the establishment of cocoa starts in earnest after marriage. Husbands and wives farm together, usually on land that has been obtained by the man. (These farms are not jointly owned). The sale of food crops is used to provide a cash income in the years before cocoa starts yielding. After cocoa has been established some farmers additionally diversify into oil palm, citrus and in the past, rubber. Tree crop farms are also inherited, although these are not always mentioned by farmers either because they have become corporate family property, or else because ownership of the farm has not been discussed or agreed amongst family members making it a delicate subject.

Typical mixed food crop farm with plantain, cocoyam, cassava etc.

Once it starts yielding, cocoa rapidly becomes the farmers most important source of income. Cassava and plantain are the most important food cash crops (and crops for home consumption) for all age groups and are used as shade during the establishment of cocoa. However as men grow more alternative cash crops, cassava and plantain are particularly important to women. Maize, rice and cowpea are cultivated for cash by men rather than women. Rice, citrus, oil palm and rubber rank as important sources on income, but to only a few farmers. However due to recent interest in oil palm, incomes from this crop should hold greater importance in the future when plantations currently being established start yielding. Vegetables are cultivated and sold by women and younger men.

Within the family husbands are more significant as decision makers than wives. Shared responsibility for the farm is not uncommon but is more likely amongst the younger farmers, possibly due to the greater frequency of additional occupations in this age group (although some young wives stay at home to process and trade foodstuffs whilst their husbands go to farm). Labour is contributed by husbands, wives and children (when not in school). Older farmers use hired labour, whilst younger ones do not. Unmarried younger men frequently share responsibility and sometimes even decision making for the farm with their mothers (particularly those making their first farms) and are helped on the farm by siblings.

Livelihoods of older men

The principle occupation of the older men at Oda is farming, and more specifically cash crop farming. By the age of 35, cocoa farms established in men's youth are maturing and form the primary source of income for most older male farmers and are the farms which men concentrate their resources on. In addition to cocoa some farmers have diversified into other tree crops (oil palm, citrus, rubber, coffee) which they have either established themselves or inherited from relatives. Some men also cultivate food crops for cash, particularly rice, maize, plantain, cassava and vegetables. These provide a source of income prior to the cocoa season. A few men keep chickens or sheep.

A substantial proportion of the older male population have lived and worked in other towns and cities. These returnees frequently have oil palm or cocoa farms elsewhere (most often in the Western region).

Livelihoods of younger men

Farming is not considered an attractive occupation by the youth due to the low renumeration and hard work involved. Education and increasing communications raise expectations. Scarcity of land is also a significant problem for younger people. The youth estimate that 40% of the young men migrate to Accra, Kumasi and Takoradi in search of alternative employment (block making in the construction industry, pushing trolleys or barbering). They do not generally intend to return to live in Oda, but come back infrequently for occasions such as funerals.

Non-farm occupations at Oda are limited, and are combined with farming. There are a few carpenters, tailors, teachers, traders and barbers. By day (daily agricultural wage labour) is the most common income generating activity and the youth are the main suppliers of agricultural labour. However the amount of work is limited and therefore not on a regular basis. Other young men do 'galamsie', (surface gold mining) in the wet season which is appreciated for generating cash in a short amount of time, and is more profitable than any other opportunities available to young people. Two organisations at Oda use monthly waged agricultural labour with a total workforce of around 50 people who are mostly young men. For others, unemployment and underemployment are significant problems and the youth complain of the lack of opportunities available to them which they frequently relate to their parents' shortage of cash for the provision of training and further education available in other towns.

Old surface gold mine. Galamsie is an illegal activity and highly destructive of agricultural land.

The majority of young men work on the farms of their parents and other seniors until they get married. Some start their own farms before marriage but all have their own farms after marriage. Farm holdings of young men commonly include the establishment of cocoa. Food crop farms are important both for home consumption and as a source of income and are more common amongst younger than older men although food crops are also harvested from plots where cocoa is being established. Plantain, cassava, maize, cowpea, vegetables and rice are sources of cash before cocoa starts bearing. Young men also commonly take plots at the Oda-Kotoamso Community Agroforestry Project. This is either to establish oil palm or kola for which the land is suitable, or due to shortage of land for food crops. Poultry and sheep are also kept in small numbers.

Livelihoods of older women

Wives generally work on land acquired by their husbands and consider themselves dependent on them. Hence not all women have farms of their own although older married women are more likely to have their own farms than younger married women. Off-farm income generating activities consist of small-scale trading, particularly in cooked foodstuffs and gari processing at the factory established by the Oda-Kotoamso Community Agroforestry Project.

It is considered wise for women to establish their own farms as soon as possible, even before marriage, if there is land available. There are two reasons for this. In the event that a woman's husband dies without formally giving her a part of his tree crop farms, his relatives may take them all away leaving her with nothing. Secondly at times a man's farm may die or be unproductive and the women must then support her husband. The farms of wives are mostly cocoa farms (although food crops are harvested in the initial years).

Divorced and widowed (independent) women establish and expand their own farms in a pattern similar to men, but on a smaller scale. They generally have both food crop and tree crop farms including plots of land at the Oda-Kotoamso Community Agroforestry Project.

Livelihoods of younger women

Younger women, like younger men, find farming unattractive. However migration to the cities is restricted to those few with more education or some training. Most young women at Oda marry and have children early. Teenage pregnancy is a problem with instances of pregnancy and even marriage in girls who have not yet finished Junior Secondary School. As with older women, young women work on the farms of their husbands. Off-farm occupations consist mostly of petty trading and processing of food stuffs such as gari and kenkey making. Some women engage in agricultural labour, the renumeration for which is commonly 1,000 cedis less than for men and a few do galamsie alongside the young men. Fewer younger married women than older married women have their own farms reflecting the scarcity of land at Oda, young women's weak rights to family land, and the time consuming nature of bearing and caring for young children. Some young women with farms on land acquired from their families have husband's without land of their own.

Farming at Oda

Historical changes in farming at Oda

Cocoa was originally cultivated at Oda by the indigenous Wassa people on small plots in valleys and on riverbanks. By the early 1960s, when settlers from other parts of the country started arriving, all the lowland areas were already covered with cocoa and the settlers started cultivating large farms on the uplands.

Cocoa drying

Changes in farming have included recent cultivation of cowpea and kola which are new crops and increased use of chemicals. The original Tetteh Quarshie variety of cocoa is no longer planted and is being replaced by a hybrid described as the 'agric' variety.


Individuals commonly have a number of farm parcels in different locations. In addition to one or more areas of cocoa which may be at various stages of development, farmers have parcels of other plantation crops, food crops and some have agroforestry plots on land of the Oda-Kotoamso Community Agroforestry Project.

Cocoa cropping predominates at Oda and the surrounding villages and hamlets. Diversification into oil palm and citrus as perennial cash crops is currently taking place facilitated by the Oda-Kotoamso Community Agroforestry Project. Food cropping consists predominantly of mixtures of plantain and cassava with maize, cocoyam, yam and vegetables. Maize, cassava, cowpea and vegetables are grown as intercrops or sole crops for cash. Cowpea and vegetables are particularly recent innovations, although vegetables have long been grown in small quantities particularly by women. Cassava is processed into gari at the processing factory established as part of the Oda-Kotoamso Community Agroforestry Project. Rice and sugar cane are cultivated by only a few people as there are few areas of suitable land not under cocoa or oil palm.

Cocoa is established with plantain, cocoyam and cassava as shade crops in addition to naturally occuring forest trees, with additional vegetable intercrops. Food crops are harvested for three years. The same system is practiced for oil palm and citrus although the shade properties of intercrops are less important. Oil palm is also reestablished on old sites as old trees are felled and tapped for palm wine and akpeteshie. Lowland swampy sites are ideal for oil palm whereas cocoa is established after secondary forest has been cleared. Cocoa starts yielding after 3 years but it is not until it is eight years that it is fully yielding. On land acquired by the Oda-Kotoamso Community Agroforestry Project farmers cultivate food crops interspersed with exotic (Cedrella odorata) or indigenous timber trees, with some farmers also cultivating kola or oil palm in a form of taungya where one third of the oil palm or kola accrues to the stool and the farmers must sell timber to the Samartex timber company when it matures, again with one third of the proceeds going to the stool. On land unsuitable for cocoa food crop farms are also found. Mixtures of plantain, cassava, maize, cocoyam, yam and vegetables are grown for home consumption. Maize is grown as a cash crop either as a sole crop, intercropped with cassava or in rotation with cowpea in the minor season. Cassava is also found as a sole crop. Rice, sugar cane and mixtures of vegetables are found in lowland areas.


Small quantities of poultry and sheep are kept at Oda. Poultry are kept on free range with ownership of less than a hundred birds. Theft is sometimes a problem with free range birds as owners do not usually mark them and ownership can be disputed. Sheep are kept in smaller numbers - commonly less than 10. They are penned and stall fed during part of the day and released for a few hours after 3pm when they roam around the settlement. when farmers have returned from farm and can control them. It is difficult for farmers to build up their flocks as there is no nearby livestock market and owners are unwilling to sell female sheep. Goats are tabooed. Livestock are not well integrated with crop farming. Sheep are fed cassava peelings but manure is disposed of on the village rubbish heap.

Acquisition of land

The most common means for indigenous people (men and women) to acquire land for farming is through the (matrilineal) family. The passage of land from father to children in the form of a gift is also very common and is used to circumvent matrilineal inheritance. Wives receive gifts of land or farms from their husbands in the same way, prior to death or on divorce. Non Wassa settlers have commonly acquired land at Oda through sharecropping and purchase.

Suitable land for the cultivation of cocoa is now a problem at Oda. Much of the land is tied up long term under perennial tree crops, and in the past land was permanently alienated from the indigenous people through sale and sharecropping to settlers. Indications of shortage are land purchase and sharecropping by indigenous people, and the acquisition of land on neighbouring stools where drinks fees charged for purchase can be lower than for sharecropping at Oda. Land shortage is felt more by the younger than the older age groups. Young people have weaker claims to family land and are given parcels that are only marginal for cocoa. They also lack capital to pay drinks fees for land purchase and sharecropping.

The Oda-Kotoamso Community Agroforestry Project has provided farmers with a cheap means of acquiring land for the cultivation of food crops. Farmers who have taken plots include many young people who do not have access to family land. Others are settlers - either older people who have finished putting perennial crops on all the land they originally acquired, or young people who originally came to the area for purposes other than farming (such as galamsie).

Demonstration agroforestry plot at Oda with cowpea under 2 year old Cedrella odorata

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