In June 1938 the Gold Coast Department of Agriculture established the Central Cocoa Research Station at Tafo to investigate problems of diseases and pests which had considerably reduced cocoa production in the Eastern Province. In 1944 it became the West African Cocoa Research Institute (WACRI) with a sub-station in Ibadan, Nigeria, and some research activities undertaken in Sierra Leone.

After the attainment of independence by Ghana and Nigeria, WACRI was dissolved, and the Cocoa Research Institute of Ghana (CRIG) and the Cocoa Research Institute of Nigeria (CRIN) were formed in its place. CRIG was administered by the National Research Council, which was later superseded by the Ghana Academy of Sciences and the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR).

The objectives of the Institute were subsequently expanded to include research on other indigenous and introduced tree crops that produced fats similar to cocoa butter.

CRIG won the privilege of being the research wing of the National Cashew Development Project in 2002, and cashew has since become a mandate crop of CRIG.

The Cocoa Research Institute of Ghana also conducts research into the development of by-products of cocoa and the other mandate crops with the aim of diversifying utilization and generating additional income for farmers. CRIG initiated research into cocoa by-products in mid-1965, by setting up a committee of experts, with representatives from the University of Ghana, to identify by-products that could be produced from cocoa. From the recommendations of the committee, research into cocoa by-products took off in 1970, spearheaded by Dr. D. Adomako, a biochemist. Cocoa by-products research received a further boost in 1992 with the setting up of the New Products Development Unit of CRIG. The Unit received financial support, through the International Cocoa Organisation (ICCO)/the Common Fund for Commodities (CFC)/Ghana Cocoa Board (COCOBOD) project in 1993. Furthermore, the Ghana Cocoa Board in 1993 transferred to CRIG three large cocoa plantations to supplement cocoa production on CRIG's experimental farms at Tafo, Afosu and Bunso, and to aid by-products research. Following the success of the cocoa by-products programme, attention was directed to develop similar by-products from the other mandate crops in 2004.