Overage cocoa trees to go

BY: Timothy Ngnenbe

A nationwide exercise to cut down the first batch of 10,000 hectares of diseased and overage cocoa trees will begin on Thursday, August 23, 2018, the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Ghana Cocoa Board (COCOBOD), Mr Joseph Boahen Aidoo, has said.

The exercise, which will begin in the Sefwi area in the Western Region, forms part of a rehabilitation policy aimed at reviving the cocoa sector.

In all, 680,000 hectares of cocoa trees, representing 40 per cent of the country’s stock of cocoa trees, will be cut down by the end of the exercise.

Mr Boahen was addressing the 2018 Olam Cocoa Managers Conference at Bunso in the East Akyem municipality in the Eastern Region yesterday.

The one-week conference, which started last Saturday, brought together key stakeholders in the cocoa sector to discuss the way forward to help address the challenges confronting the cocoa industry.

It is being held on the theme: “The most admired business: Building thriving communities through digitisation”.


Funding

Mr Boahen explained that COCOBOD was sourcing $600 million from the African Development Bank (AfDB), out of which $200 million would be used to support the rehabilitation of aged cocoa farms and the cutting of cocoa trees that had been affected by the swollen shoot disease.

“At the moment, COCOBOD, on its own, is trying to use its internally generated funds (IGF) to cut 10,000 hectares of the cocoa trees, while waiting for the AfDB facility some time next year.

"Some 350,000 farmer households will be affected in the cocoa industry and so we need more private sector players to come on board to support this process," he said.

Livelihood support

Mr Boahen added that the government had concluded arrangements for sustenance allowance to be paid to cushion farmers for the three-year gestation period that they would be affected by the cutting down of their cocoa trees.

"Farmers are critical players in the cocoa value chain and so we will support them to fend for themselves within the three-year gestation period before their trees start bearing fruits.

"Compensation will be paid to both tenant farmers and landowners to ensure that they do not become worse off," he said.

Sanctions

He also announced that cocoa purchasing clerks who used dishonest scales to dupe cocoa farmers would soon taste the bitter side of the law because COCOBOD was ready to crack the whip on them.

He said some of the clerks had been found to have adjusted their scales to rob farmers of about 20 kilogrammes of cocoa per bag, a situation he described as unacceptable.

He said the board had joined forces with the Ghana Standards Authority (GSA) to compile a comprehensive list of those bad elements and would begin applying sanctions against them.

 “The GSA has given COCOBOD a list of every company and the exploitative tendencies against farmers. For those whose cases are extreme, we will blacklist them from buying cocoa, while other license-buying companies will be surcharged for cheating farmers.

"We will work out figures to know the value of the cocoa the companies have robbed farmers and surcharge them appropriately because we cannot allow people to continue to cheat farmers," he said.

Mr Boahen cautioned licensed cocoa buying companies to put their act together to guard against the exploitation of farmers or be prepared to face the law.

Cocoa situation

The global cocoa value chain generates $120 billion annually.

Even though Cote d'Ivoire and Ghana account for 60 per cent of the global production of cocoa, with two million metric tonnes and 960 metric tonnes, respectively, the two countries get only six per cent of the value of the commodity.

Ghana, for instance, gets only $2 billion of the total global value of the commodity.

Against that backdrop, Mr Boahen said the time had come for conscious efforts to be made to ensure that the country obtained its fair share of the commodity.

He said working towards a robust cocoa sector required that farmers, whom he described as the most vulnerable and weakest link, be supported to remain in business.

"We are faced with the bare realities where farmers in the Brong Ahafo and the Eastern regions are cutting down cocoa trees and replacing them with rubber and cashew.

“Meanwhile, the farmers are also ageing, with the average age being 55 years. There is the need for urgent steps to support farmers and make cocoa farming attractive to other people," he said.

Local consumption

Mr Boahen said the focus of COCOBOD was to help promote the local consumption of cocoa and cocoa products, adding that more emphasis would be  placed on adding value to the commodity, instead of exporting it in its raw state.

He also said COCOBOD was holding discussions with stakeholders in the educational sector on how to mainstream the consumption of chocolate and other cocoa products into the menu of basic and senior high school students.

“I want to call on the hospitality industry, especially the hotels, to begin to serve cocoa products, so that we can promote the local consumption of the commodity,” he said.

 Interventions paying off

He noted that a number of interventions that had been taken by the government in the cocoa sector had started yielding results, for which reason efforts ought to be sustained to maintain the gains.

Mr Boahen noted in particular that following the roll out of the hand pollination policy last year, farmers’ productivity had increased from three bags per year to between 12 and 20 this year, with the figure expected to hit 40 bags by next year.

In addition, he said, the pruning of cocoa farms had been introduced this year on a pilot basis and would be scaled up next year.

He, however, bemoaned the devastating impact illegal mining had had on the cocoa sector.

Vice-Principal

The Vice-Principal of the Bunso Cocoa College, Mrs Rosemond Owusu Sarfo, lauded COCOBOD for the bold steps being taken to support the cocoa sector.

She underscored the need for farmers to be put at the centre of all interventions in the sector, since they were the heart of the industry.