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Lithovit fertiliser best for cocoa: Farmer testifies in Opuni trial

BY: Emmanuel Ebo Hawkson
Dr Stephen Opuni
Dr Stephen Opuni

A cocoa farmer has told the Accra High Court that the fertiliser at the centre of the trial of a former Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Ghana Cocoa Board (COCOBOD), Dr Stephen Kwabena Opuni, increased his cocoa yields remarkably.

Samuel Torbi said in one instance, the lithovit liquid fertiliser increased his cocoa yield from 2,875 kilogrammes in the 2013/14 cocoa season to 8,125 kilogrammes in the 2015/16 cocoa season.

“I state that the lithovit liquid fertiliser is the best fertiliser that I have ever used on my cocoa farm. It is the best fertiliser ever supplied by COCOBOD. It is a liquid fertiliser, and it is very effective,” he told the court.

Mr Torbi, who introduced himself as a cocoa farmer with 17 years experience and with over 33 acres of cocoa farms in the Central Region, was testifying as a defence witness for Dr Opuni at the hearing yesterday.

Dr Opuni is standing trial with businessman Seidu Agongo, CEO of Agricult Ghana Limited, producers of the said fertiliser.

State prosecutors have accused the two of causing financial loss of more than GH¢271 million to the state in a series of transactions involving the said fertiliser.

It is the case of the prosecution that the fertiliser was substandard, and has accused Agongo of allegedly using fraudulent means to sell the fertiliser to COCOBOD for onward distribution to cocoa farmers.

The prosecution has further accused Dr Opuni of using his position as CEO of COCOBOD (November 2013 to January 2017) to facilitate the alleged acts of Agongo by allowing the lithovit liquid fertiliser not to be tested and certified as required by law.

Dr Opuni and Agongo have pleaded not guilty to the charges and are on self-recognisance bail in the sum of GH¢300,000 each.

Fertiliser

In his evidence-in-chief read to the court, Mr Torbi said he used to rely solely on granular fertilisers on his cocoa until COCOBOD introduced liquid fertilisers, which included the lithovit liquid fertiliser, to him in the 2014/2015 cocoa season.

He said since liquid fertiliser was new to him, and in order to minimise his risk, he decided to apply the liquid fertiliser and the granular fertiliser to equal portions of his farms, which yielded remarkably distinct results.

He said his cocoa yield increased to 3,687 kilogrammes in the 2014/2015 season as against 3,437 kilogrammes in the 2012/2013 season.

“I, therefore, became convinced about the efficacy of liquid fertilisers,” he testified.

He added that in the 2015/2016 cocoa season, the Cocoa Health and Extension Division (CHED) of COCOBOD supplied him with 12 litres of lithovit liquid fertiliser, and this time around, he applied it to all portions of his cocoa farms.

“I must state that the risk was worth it. I harvested and sold 8,125 kilogrammes of cocoa beans for the said 2015/2016 cocoa season,” he added.

Mr Torbi testified that due to the high efficacy rate of the lithovit liquid fertiliser, he and other cocoa farmers in his district vowed not to use any other fertiliser apart from the lithovit liquid fertiliser.

However, he said, COCOBOD stopped supplying him and other farmers with lithovit liquid fertiliser in the 2017/2018 cocoa season, which according to him, drastically reduced his cocoa yields in subsequent cocoa seasons.

Passbook controversy

Mr Torbi then sought to tender his cocoa passbook — a document which contained his cocoa sales and other information — from 2012 to 2022, but the prosecution raised an objection.

The witness had earlier explained to the court that a purchasing clerk at the licensed buying company that bought his cocoa for COCOBOD spelt his first name (Samuel) wrongly, and, therefore, he ensured that the clerk corrected the mistake.

However, making a case for the objection, the prosecutor, Mrs Evelyn Keelson, a Chief State Attorney, submitted that the said correction on the passbook raised a question about the authenticity of the passbook and whether it belonged to the witness.

According to the prosecutor, a careful look at the passbook showed that it was the name “ROCKSON” that had been corrected to “SAMUEL” “Rockson can certainly not be a mistake in the spelling of the name Samuel, not by any stretch of imagination. It is our submission that the document the witness seeks to tender as his own is not his document,” the prosecutor said.

In response, lead counsel for Dr Opuni, Samuel Codjoe, explained the circumstances that led to the correction, emphasising that the passbook contained the picture of the witness.

The presiding judge, Justice Clemence Jackson Honyenuga, a Justice of the Supreme Court sitting as a High Court judge, overruled the objection and admitted the passbook into evidence “for what it is worth”.

The hearing continues on May 19, 2022, for the prosecution to cross-examine Mr Torbi.

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