23 June 2014

Ghana: Cocoa Farms Turned Into Mining Concession

The abject poverty starring cocoa farmers in the face have compelled them to sell their cocoa farms as concession to illegal miners (galamsey) to mine for gold.

The practice which could spell doom for the country if not immediately arrested is said to be common in some parts of Ashanti and Western Regions where illegal mining has become the order of the day.

Available statistics indicate that every year Ghana experiences reduction of about 100,000 tonnes in production of cocoa with global reduction trends expected to hit about one million.

Last year, Ghana's cocoa production declined from one million tonnes the previous year to eight hundred thousand tonnes.

Early this year (2014), Ghana Cocoa Board (COCOBOD) projected a production target of 830,000 metric tonnes, which was later revised upwards to 850,000 tonnes.

But industry players are warning that the target could not be achieved due to a number of factors.

Chief among them are the relatively low prices Ghana pays for the commodity as against what is paid by her Ivorian neighbours.

In the 2013 and 2014 crop year for instance, whilst Ghana was paying GH¢ 3,392 per tonne, which is a little over $1000, Ivory Coast was paying CFA750, which translates into $1500 per tonne.

This, coupled with the continued depreciation of the cedi, motivated some of the unscrupulous farmers to smuggle the commodity to Ivory Coast.

The downward trend of the sector, which helped to sustain Ghana's economy for many years until the recent emergency of oil is being partly attributed to the aging farmers and refusal of the youth to go into the cultivation of the cash crop.

But the quick money syndrome where the farms are being sold to illegal miners could exacerbate the situation.

To help reverse the trend, outgoing the deputy Minister for Trade and Industry, Nii Lantey Vanderpuye, is appealing to cocoa farmers in the country to desist from the habit of giving out their cocoa farms for Illegal mining (galamsey) operations.

The Deputy Minister noted that the unfortunate situation, if allowed to persist, could derail the government efforts at improving its cocoa production capacity towards taking its position as the leading exporter of the commodity.

The MP for Odododiodoo Constituency observed that apart from denying the country the needed production capacity, galamsey operations also pose serious environmental challenges to many farming communities and must, therefore, not be encouraged.

Speaking at a ceremony at Tepa in the Ashanti Region to mark the official payment of Premium to members of the Kookoo Pa Association, a cocoa purchasing outlet, Hon. Vanderpuye assured farmers in the country that government was very much concerned about their welfare and has, therefore, instituted several policies and interventions to help improve their lot.

The Kookoo Pa Association, established in 2009, is an initiative of some local cocoa farmers in three regions of Ghana with support from foreign partners including Solidaridad West Africa, Noble Resources and FERRERO, to help offer training to local farmers in modern trends in cocoa farming and to also build a ready market for cocoa product.

It currently has a membership of about 7,000 operating in seven districts of Ashanti, Brong Ahafo and the Western Regions.

Vanderpuye, who spoke on behalf of the Minister for Trade and Industry (MOTI), Hon. Haruna Iddrissu, observed that since Ghana continues to rely on its agrarian resources, with agriculture as an integral part of the country's economy, government would not relent on its efforts at motivating farmers through the provision of incentives, in order to help migrate them from peasant to commercial farming production.

He said fertilizer subsidy, mass spraying of cocoa and payment of bonus would be sustained by government as part of efforts to motivate cocoa farmers and improve their conditions.

Mr. Vanderpuye, who is also the outgoing Deputy Minister for Trade and Industry, stated that the ministry, through the Export Development and Industrial Fund (EDIF) is offering credit facilities to individuals and groups engaged in agro-processing to help add value to our local crops such as cocoa, cashew, tomato amongst others.

He said it was for this reason that the government welcomes initiatives from private partners such as Solidaridad, Noble Resources and FERRERO, whose aims were to help farmers improve their yields through modern farming practices, offer ready markets to harvest and also add value to the product through chocolate production.

The Deputy Minister further expressed the optimism that the collaboration between local farmers and their private partners in terms of technologically-advanced farming practices would also help preserve Ghana's cocoa as the best in terms of quality in the world market whilst also improving the production capacity.

The Managing Director of Solidaridad West Africa, Mr. Isaac Adu Gyamfi, warned of the alarming rate at which cocoa production in Ghana and world at large, was gradually decreasing, stressing that unless efforts were made by governments, Ghana and for that matter the world, could be hit with significant decrease in supply in the next few years to come.

According to him, factors such as galamsey, climate changes and failure to adopt modern technology pose serious challenges to cocoa production, adding that every year Ghana experiences reduction of about 100,000 tonnes in production of cocoa with global reduction trends expected to hit about one million.

Mr. Adu Gyamfi said it was for this reason that Solidaridad West Africa, with support from its partners, had initiated several measures to help reach out to farmers on improved methods of farming and provision of quality cocoa seedlings for plantation.

He further added that the organization is also establishing Cocoa Youth Business Groups, a programme to encourage youth who, for some reasons could not further their education, to help them enter into cocoa farming using the most sophisticated methods available.

The Programmes Manager of the Association, Mr. Fred Amponsah, said the aim of the association was to help provide training to farmers and to also encourage them to see cocoa farming as a business venture and not as a last option.

He said since the association gained licence in 2010 to operate as an autonomous body, it had purchased and exported about 81,600 tonnes of cocoa abroad, stressing that the association would supply 11,000 crops and assist in plantation of 26,000 trees in its operating areas this year to help boost the efforts of members.

In a speech read on his behalf, the Chief Executive Officer of COCOBOD, Dr. Stephen Opuni, said the company would support individuals and groups in their quest to ensure increase production of the commodity but warned that it would adhere strictly to the global standards in order to help protect the quality of Ghana's cocoa on the world market.

He, therefore, lauded the effort of Kookoo Pa Association, Solidaridad and its partners for their initiative and encouraged them to work hard in order to increase production capacity of cocoa in Ghana.

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