Cocoa industry under threat - illegal miners destroy rehabilitated farms

The country’s cocoa industry is facing one of its biggest threats ever as illegal gold miners continue a major onslaught on cocoa farms, including those recently rehabilitated under a national programme.

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The Ghana Cocoa Board (COCOBOD) had warned that the industry could head for a disaster if the illegal activities were not checked.  

Raising the alarm, the Executive Director of Cocoa Health and Extension Services, Rev. Edwin Afari, said the National Cocoa Rehabilitation Programme being undertaken by COCOBOD at a cost of about GH¢4.8 billion was under severe threat from illegal mining (gamalsey) activities.

“Recently, I was around the Boinso area in the Aowin municipality of the Western Region and for about 36.5 hectares that we did, they have cut down all of them for galamsey,” he told journalists in Cape Coast last Friday on the margins of a ceremony to award 15 visually impaired cocoa farmers from the Central, Western and Brong Ahafo cocoa regions for their immense contribution to cocoa production. 

He said the situation had gone from bad to worse over the past 10 years, and consequently, appealed to the Minerals Commission to refrain from giving mining concessions to miners in cocoa growing areas, while urging all stakeholders to help curb the negative impact of galamsey on cocoa production in the country.

Rev. Afari stated that illegal mining activities were alarming in the Western South cocoa region, including the Wassa Akropong corridor, and parts of the Ashanti Region including Manso Adubia, Antoakrom, and Anyinam in the Eastern Region where a lot of hectares of juvenile cocoa farms had been destroyed.

Rehabilitation programme

On September 24, 2020,  President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo launched the National Cocoa Rehabilitation Programme at Sefwi Wiawso in the Western North Region, with the objective of rehabilitating farms affected by the Cocoa Swollen Shoot Virus Disease (CSSVD) which had become unproductive.

The programme, which had earlier been successfully piloted in some of the worst CSSVD-affected cocoa growing areas had since been expanded to all other cocoa growing regions. 

Under the programme, COCOBOD bears the full cost of the two-year-long rehabilitation process which involves the cutting of the diseased trees, treating the farms and replanting with disease-tolerant, early bearing, high-yielding cocoa varieties.

In addition, COCOBOD gives GH¢1,000.00 per hectare to each farmer whose farm is affected by the disease, while in the case of tenancy, both the affected tenant farmers and their landowners are compensated.

Maiden awards 

The awards ceremony, the first of its kind, was organised by COCOBOD with support from the Agricultural Manufacturing Group Limited (AMG Ghana) and Mondelez Cocoalife International, all companies operating in the cocoa value chain.

Aged between 50 and 78 years, the farmers have been working for 15 to 60 years, with seven of them still active.

Each of them received six bags of fertiliser, two pairs of Wellington boots, two machetes, chocolates and other cocoa products, and an undisclosed amount.

One of the awardees, Kofi Esuon, was however honoured posthumously.

Efforts hampered

Rev. Afari said the project to rehabilitate swollen shoot-affected cocoa farms and moribund cocoa farms were being derailed by galamsey activities.

“We haven’t even accounted for the harvesting that will be coming. It is just the investment; the compensation that we give to the landowners and farmers; planting of plantain suckers, cocoa trees, extension services, among others,” he further stated, adding “all the work we have done in there has gone to waste.”

Dramatic change

On a larger scale, Rev. Afari indicated that many forest areas where cocoa was grown had been taken over by illegal mining activities.

He stated that apart from the rehabilitated farms, illegal miners were buying out huge tracts of land meant for cocoa farming for illegal mining.

“Even if you don’t sell your farm to them, they dig around it, preventing you from accessing the farm,” he stated.

Stringent measures needed

He said if stringent measures were not taken to reverse the situation, national cocoa volumes produced could be significantly affected.

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“When we lose several hectares of cocoa we have planted, Ghana is going to suffer,” he stated.

He indicated that another area of concern was the ageing cocoa farmer population, which according to surveys in the seven cocoa producing regions, averagely hovered around 55 years.

That, he noted, did not augur well for the sustainability of cocoa production. 

Rev. Afari encouraged other professionals to enter into cocoa farming, saying “whether you are a doctor, engineer, nurse, development expert, you can venture into cocoa farming.”

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Production

Touching on production figures, he said: “We did 1.47 million tonnes last two years but last year was not good because of the weather and so we came down to about 683,000 tonnes.”

This year, he said COCOBOD was targeting 850,000 tonnes and, hopefully, move on to a million or more next year.

Rev. Afari called on other stakeholders including farmers, chiefs and the media to support efforts at promoting the economic value of the farms, which had more lasting economic value than selling the land to illegal miners.

Disadvantaged farmers

Rev. Afari said the award initiative was to appreciate disadvantaged cocoa farmers for their continuous contributions to the cocoa industry and to encourage them to give of their best.

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He commended the awardees for their strength of mind and resilience in the face of challenges and for contributing their quota to national development.

“If you work diligently with your heart and mind, that is a special kind of sight,” he stated.

The executive director indicated that this year, COCOBOD would focus on cocoa pruning, undertake pollination and pest control exercises to help increase the country’s production.

Increase production

The Director, Agronomy at COCOBOD, Samuel Asare Ankamah, stated that the awards would ultimately encourage the increase in productivity. 

The Central Regional Chief Farmer, Nana Kwesi Ofori, who chaired the function, said the perseverance and commitment of the visually impaired farmers in the face of adversity was commendable and urged other farmers to take inspiration from their works to do more.

He expressed the hope that the initiative would not be a “nine-day wonder” but would be sustained to encourage even more farmers with disabilities to produce more.

Gratitude

Kwesi Adu, who spoke on behalf of the awardees, thanked COCOBOD for the gesture.

Another awardee, Vida Boakye, called for subsidised inputs to help them increase production.

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