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Opinions of Sunday, 11 October 2020

Columnist: Prince Adjei

The cocoa sector under President Akufo-Addo has seen massive improvement

Prince Adjei, author Prince Adjei, author

The word "cocoa" evokes a lot of passion and great feeling among Ghanaians any time it comes up for mention. For more than a century, it has and continues to play a very significant role in the lives of Ghanaians.

Though it is one of the many tree crops, unlike the others, it is treated with much reverence and adoration due to its importance to the individual economy (micro) and the national economy (macro) as a whole.

For many it's a family treasure which has sustained lives for generations and yet for others it is a national heritage which must be preserved for generations yet unborn.

The importance of cocoa is such that, it has always been central not only to the economic development of the country, but also the political future of any government.

Despite the discovery of crude oil in commercial quantities, cocoa still remains the number one foreign exchange earner for the country.

Despite its economic importance, it has always played a central role in the politics of the day. It is said to be one of the issues that galvanized people to begin the agitations for Ghana's independence and even after independence, it still was a central issue.

Anytime the National Liberation Movement (NLM) of the late Baffuor Akoto is mentioned, one thing that features promptly is "Cocoa Politics". As it is, cocoa politics is not new and from all indications, it is going to be a key feature in our body politics for a very long time to come.

While it may not be out of place for such an important economic activity to feature prominently within our politics, it is always important that issues concerning the sector are situated within the right context devoid of lies and propaganda.

The recent debate over which of the two governments- that is the New Patriotic Party (NPP) and the National Democratic Congress (NDC) has performed better in the management of the cocoa sector, even though will have to be answered, must be done with facts rather than propagandist rhetorics.

The cocoa sector in Ghana for sometime now has been going through a number challenges ranging from diseases infection, pests attack, deforestation, activities of illegal mining devastating cocoa lands, through selling of cocoa farms to mining operators who later cut down all cocoa trees on such farms for their illegal activities to smuggling of cocoa beans to neighbouring countries.

There is no gainsaying that these challenges constitute a major constraint on the sector and has impacted negatively on production in terms of tonnage.

Diseases like the Cocoa Swollen Shoot Virus Disease (CSSVD) ,Black pod among others, are major setbacks which have thwarted the cultivation of cocoa for many years.

Even though successive governments have tried with different interventions to revamp the sector, the much anticipated outcomes often fell short of expectations. The situation remained largely so until the coming into government of the NPP in 2001.

The Kufuor administration as part of its goals was to increase cocoa production in the country from the 347,000metric tonnes in 2001 to about 1,000,000metric tonnes by the end of 2010.

To achieve this, the government set out a number of programmes and with support for the COCOBOD put in place various good agronomic practices(GAPS) such as the Cocoa Diseases and Pests Control Programme(CODAPEC) popularly known as Cocoa mass spraying to curtail pests invasion and disease infections.

It is important to emphasize that when the NPP under President Kufour took over the reins of governance in the country in 2001, cocoa production had slumped to a little over 300,000metric tonnes per annum.

However, due to prudent measures put in place, production rose from the less than 400,000 tonnes per annum to over 740,000metric tonnes in 2005. One key intervention which ensured the dramatic improvement in cocoa production was the Mass Cocoa Spraying exercise. The mass spraying (Cocoa Diseases and Pests Control Programme (CODAPEC) was mainly to deal with the swollen shoot disease.

As projected, the One million metric tonnes was indeed achieved in the 2010/2011 crop season under the leadership of a technocrat Chief Executive Officer, Mr Tony Fofie, an Agricultural Economist.

It is important to put on record that, prior to being appointed CEO of COCOBOD, Mr. Tony Fofie, was the deputy CEO in charge of Agronomy and Quality Control and was very instrumental in designing the strategy that led to the attainment of the one million metric tonnes.

Unfortunately, having achieved the one million mark, production started to decline once again- thanks to the Presidency of John Dramani Mahama. For instance, the mass spraying exercise which ensured bumper harvest was stopped when John Mahama took over the reins of government from the late President Mills after his demise.

Furthermore, the compensation and incentive packages that were given to some of the cocoa farmers whose farms were affected by the CSSVD were also disrupted and yet the improved seedlings distributed to farmers for planting was done without any technical and financial support.

As a result, the farmers planted those seedlings in the infected farms under the old trees infected by the CSSVD, spreading to the newly established seedlings. Even though, the government of John Mahama introduced a new fertilizer policy known as the "free fertilizer policy" it was implemented abysmally. The fertiliser distribution was woefully inadequate and this meant that only few farmers who were close to influential personalities benefited from such.

However, the situation seems to have changed and ever since President Akufo-Addo took over in 2017. Once again, all efforts to ensure increase in the volumes of cocoa production have been activated by Nana Addo's government through the management of the Cocobod.

Good agronomic practices and other GAPS such as pruning, cocoa rehabilitation, hand pollination, streamlined fertiliser distribution to co-operatives (which is 50% subsidised) for sharing to their individual farmers have been implemented to help capacitate them.

Seedlings are also distributed to farmers free of charge to establish their cocoa farms and under the cocoa rehabilitation programme, farmers whose farms have been infected with the CSSVD are cut down as a way of controlling the disease albeit with with some compensation paid the owners.

It is important to note that each affected farmer whose farm is cut down is compensated with GHC1,000 per hectare and in addition to this, his or her farm is replanted for him or her.

The most juicy part is the fact that the seedlings for replanting are supplied free of charge and yet the farmers are allowed to engage in mix cropping by planting plantain sucker, economic shade trees along side the new seedlings.

The farm is handed over to the farmer after two(2) years when it has fully been established.

In terms of pricing, President Akufo-Addo in spite of reduction in the world market price of cocoa, still maintained the producer price he inherited, despite the fact that neighbouring Ivory Coast and other cocoa producing countries has reduced their producer prices to reflect the global market price.

Nana Addo also went ahead and even later increased the producer price from GHC475 to GHC515 respectively.

Currently, the Cocobod under the leadership of Joseph Boahen Aidoo with support from the Akufo-Addo government, has negotiated a Living Income Differential (LID) for the Ghanaian cocoa farmer and this has ensured $400 per tonne or $25 per bag for the farmer.

In addition to this, the President has also announced a more than 28% increase in producer price bringing it to an all time record high of GHC660 per bag of 64kg beginning the 2020/2021 cocoa season.

This is very refreshing not only for the cocoa farmer but also for many households whose livelihoods depend on the cocoa sector. The new measures does not only ensure the revival of the sector but also for the sustenance of the cocoa industry for future generations.

The enhanced producer price has helped to check smuggling of cocoa beans to neighbouring countries. Ghana has partnered with Cote d'Ivoire to set their producer prices at par, making it unattractive to smuggle beans to any of these two countries which hitherto used to be the case.

With the vigorous technical measures and programmes put in place, production in tonnage of the produce is projected to hit more than 1million tonnes in the next three(3) years.