Change the status quo

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One government institution that initially provided hope to the Ghanaian because of its huge support to the economy was the Ghana Cocoa Board (COCOBOD), which was established in 1947 to formulate strategies to sustain the cocoa industry in Ghana. 

This is because of its national mandate of encouraging and facilitating the production, processing, and marketing of premium quality cocoa, coffee and shea nut in all forms in the most efficient and cost-effective manner and maintain best mutual industrial relations with its workers.

Over the years, it has managed to fulfil the mission and objectives that necessitated its establishment and continue to uphold social conscience, treat its farmers fairly and maintain a mutually beneficial relationship with all stakeholders.

However, since the beginning of the year when the political mandate changed which ultimately affected some of the management staff of COCOBOD, I have been wondering whether the reported cases of financial malfeasance, where government resources were allegedly misapplied and in some cases embezzled at alarming proportions is quiet frightening.

The reports are so intimidating that if the ongoing investigations by the state investigative agencies are true, then I would suggest something drastic and radical should be done to reverse such reckless dissipation of public funds, as well as get the perpetrators punished according to the dictates of the laws of the country.

History of cocoa in Ghana

The cocoa beans were first introduced to Ghana by the Dutch missionaries at the beginning of the 19th century. Its widespread cultivation is, however, attributed to Tetteh Quarshie, a Ghanaian blacksmith of Osu in Accra.

He lived and worked in Fernando Po (now Equatorial Guinea) for many years and on his return to Ghana in 1879, brought with him the Amelonado Cocoa pods.

He established a farm at Akwapim Mampong in the Eastern Region which turned into a nursery for all pioneering cocoa farmers in Ghana. His legacy is the cocoa bean that has become the backbone of the country’s economy.

Cocoa cultivation, after Tetteh Quarshie, assumed commercial dimensions and spread to all forest areas of the country, particularly Eastern, Ashanti, Brong Ahafo, Volta, Central and Western regions. Cocoa pods mature and ripe throughout the year.

Challenges in cultivation

Currently, Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana are the largest producers of cocoa followed by Nigeria and Cameroun.

The average yields, however, remain low because many farms are old and extensive cultivation methods are used. Farmers wishing to increase their cocoa output established new farms elsewhere in the forest zone. This search for new land has led to large-scale deforestation.

Presently, less land is available for the expansion of the cocoa area due to the activities of illegal mining (galamsey) which hinders further increase in production. The additional yield has to come from an increase in the yield of the existing matured trees and the replanting of old unproductive cocoa farms.

COCOBOD and farmers

The major reason for the establishment of COCOBOD was to help cocoa farmers market their produce at the world stage, however, what is happening now is a far cry from the status quo.It is abundantly clear that COCOBOD is taking the labour and toil of the poor cocoa farmers for granted by paying them just 50 per cent of what pertains on the world market.

As a result of this, the farmer has become impoverished, while COCOBOD officials have become fabulously rich. The farmers buy farm inputs such as fertilisers (some cases get 50 per cent subsidy) and as well pay taxes on their produce. The cocoa farmers are the backbone of Ghana’s economy since Adam and must be accorded such recognition in both material and honourary terms.

Recently, at the commemoration of the 70th anniversary of COCOBOD in Kumasi, President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo in acknowledging the contributions of cocoa farmers of the county, bemoaned the plight of the farmers when he said despite supplying half of the world’s cocoa tonnage by 1935, 60 years after the arrival of Tetteh Quarshie from Fernando, cocoa farmers did not have any say in the price paid for their products.

Syndication loan

Sadly, every year COCOBOD with support from the government, enter into a contract with multinational institutions and banks to syndicate for loans, usually $2billion to buy cocoa which it sells on the world market. This loan syndication process keeps recurring and one may ask why can’t COCOBOD have a sinking fund to keep some money from the huge profit it makes for this purpose instead of running to international lenders.

Sadly, all these years that COCOBOD has been in this buy and sell business, it has not attempted to cultivate a single acreage of cocoa farm. In Cote d’ Ivoire for instance, because of the premium the government places on cocoa which is the backbone of its economy, the state now owns more than 70 per cent of cocoa farms.

Foreign exchange

There is also an open secret in the public space that each time this syndication loan is contracted, it naturally affects the stability of the local currency in relation to the dollar. Whether consciously or unconsciously, this is the trend that industry players who make maximum use of the forex have observed. When this happens, it affects the business activities of importers and subsequently prices of goods and services in general.

Looking into the future, COCOBOD must aspire and extricate itself from this annual ritual of falling on loans to fund cocoa purchases. The management must be innovative and devise a way to positively go around this yearly ritual.

The President has said on so many occasions on different platforms and the recent one being at the 73rd UN General Assembly where he expressed his disapproval of Ghana selling raw cocoa beans on the world market and, therefore, called for collaboration from multinationals to add value to the beans. I hope the management of COCOBOD will be inspired by this and work towards achieving this dream.

Discrimination against cocoa farmers

It’s sad to note that the farmers in Ghana, particularly cocoa farmers are being discriminated against, because they are compelled to sell their produce to the government, unlike other crop farmers and manufacturers. In Ghana, everybody does his/her own business and is determined to sell their produce at a price different from the cocoa farmer.

In view of this, I believe a huge number of Ghanaians share similar views that COCOBOD has outlived its usefulness and, therefore, has to review its mandate and go into plantation farming to produce cocoa on the same lines such as the world’s leading producer, Cote d’ Ivoire.

Additionally, cocoa farmers should be organised into cooperative groups and engage first class marketers to market their produce on the world market to enable them make more money instead of making it obligatory for them to sell to the state.

Reforms

The perception out there about the emoluments of staff of COCOBOD is quite worrying and it is my hope that the new board and management team will do everything within their powers to streamline the extravagant and lavish pecks associated with their respective offices. They must make conscious effort by cutting down cost and waste at COCOBOD and channel the resources in making life better for the huge numbers of cocoa farmers who are wallowing in poverty.

At least the President has given us the indication that he will not tolerate profligate spending and I expect the rank and file to rally around and see to it that this vision of President Akufo-Addo becomes a reality.