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Opinions of Wednesday, 9 March 2016

Columnist: Abugri, George Sydney

The silos Kwame Nkrumah built in Tema

George Sydney Abugri

The huge silos towering skyward outside the Tema Harbour were constructed 50 years ago by the Government of Dr. Kwame Nkrumah to store cocoa, and those outside the harbour to store stockpiles of grain for national food self-sufficiency and security.

The cocoa storage silos with a potential storage capacity of 200,000 tonnes were built at a cost of 8,500,000 British pounds. Ghana was the world’s leading producer of cocoa at the time, producing more than 40 per cent of the world’s annual output of cocoa.

The plan to build the silos was, however, severely, criticized by the political opposition, the World Bank and other foreign interests.
The eventual abandonment of the 8,500,000 pound sterling silos is best understood in the context of the general opposition to the national industrialization programme Nkrumah embarked upon shortly after independence.
Evidence now abounds that criticisms of the various programmes of national industrialization by the political opposition and Nkrumah’s critics were not wholly justified: One foreign report on Nkrumah’s industrialization and economic development plan was as follows:

Nkrumah accused of going on spending spree

“Nkrumah went on a massive spending spree, building roads, houses, schools, hospitals, factories, steel works, mining ventures and the largest dry-dock in Africa that was rarely ever used. He built the Akosombo Dam and a hydro-electricity power plant on the Volta River at the expense of the spread of endemic river blindness. He even constructed concrete silos for the storage of cocoa.”

Most of the projects referred to have remained key supporting infrastructure for the nation’s socio-economic development. The silos project has, however, remained a notable exception.

The World Bank condemned the silos project as impracticable, arguing that the mechanisms of filling and emptying the silos were uneconomic. Cocoa beans also tended to split when dropped from a height as far up as the top sections of the silos.
Even more importantly they argued, it was uncertain what would happen to cocoa beans stored in vast quantities in a closed space without air-conditioning in a tropical country.
It has since been explained by long-retired workers of the cocoa industry that Nkrumah left nothing to chance, and that the silos had been designed to store cocoa beans at regulated temperatures and humidity.
Many of them insisted the silos project was an excellent idea, similar to ones embarked upon at the time in Europe and America to withhold farmers’ produce when the market was not favourable to the farmers.

Experts in the industry say had the project not been interrupted and later abandoned altogether, it would have enabled Ghana to keep in adequate storage, up to half of her annual cocoa crop, any time the world cocoa prices fell too low.

The silos within the harbour were built by Nkrumah’s government as part of the Tema Food Complex Corporation (TFCC) project. Nkrumah intended the complex to serve as a food science research centre as well.

Abandoned complex capable of housing food science research center
Up till today, if renovated and adequately equipped, the facility has the infrastructure to house several faculties of a university of research centre of the type Dr. Nkrumah had in mind: A vast estate, several industrial plants, large blocks of offices, quality control laboratories and other facilities.
The complex’s giant 10-storey grain silos are the tallest storey buildings in the immediate harbour area. From the roof of the grain storage silos, you get a rather dizzying but also spectacular, eagle eye view of the habour below.

The multi-coloured stacks of metal shipping containers awaiting shipment abroad or haulage inland, ships swaying gently in the berthing bay and other ships afloat off berthing waters, awaiting instructions on where to berth.
The military overthrow of the First Republic temporarily interrupted the Tema Food Complex project. A plaque at the complex says the facility was inaugurated in 1974 by the late General Kutu Acheampong.

The complex began production of flour, vegetable oil, poultry feed, caned fish and other canned foods. Initially, the profits seemed to roll in, but the bug of mismanagement which bit many a state-owned enterprises throughout the 1970s and 1980s and reduced them to unproductive establishments, draining state finances did not spare the Tema Food Complex Corporation.
Shortly after establishing an image as the country’s leading industrial food complex, the corporation slid down the slope of productivity to near bankruptcy.
A massive and capital intensive private-government partnership then began to rehabilitate the food complex. Refurbishment included repairs, replacement of parts, new high technology installations, renovations and other work on all four industrial plants at the complex.

The Government of Ghana initially owned 25 per cent of the business equity shares, Bau Nord AG (IBN), a Switzerland-based business with over 30 years of business investment experience in Africa, owned the remaining 75 per cent.

After taking over from the TFCC, the flour mill remained a paramount revenue earner for GAFCO. By developing world standards, the technology GAFCO employed in operating the mill many years ago was a marvel:

How Dravichi took technical drawings of Nkrumah’s silos away.

First there was the mill silo, a colossal concrete structure reaching 10-storeys into the sky. Within its vast bowels are 14 compartments with a grain storage capacity of 1,000 metric tones each.

All the complex’s milling operations were controlled from a computerized panel in a control room. (In the days of the Tema Food Complex Corporation, milling operations had been manual).
While other flour mills expended substantial investment capital in the haulage of grain from the harbour, GAFCO got its grain out of the harbour without the use of trucks or labourers.
A large conveyor belt connected the mill and the harbour. Ships carrying wheat or other grain for the mill docked close to the conveyor belt. The wheat was then released from the ships’ holds into the conveyor belt and carried straight into the mill silo.
Huge volumes of wheat or maize were moved up the pipes from the lower floors by air suction. On each floor, machines performed various functions, grinding, removing alien particles, sieving, regrinding and refining.
Today, the silos which are not in use are infested with rodents, small colonies of stray cats and other vermin.
Years ago, I made enquires at Tema to determine the feasibility of reviving GAFCO to support food science research. My enquiries were also to assess the feasibility of completing the cocoa silos for storage of the crop or at least for some other economic use.

Mr. J.K. Amponsah, a veteran entrepreneur and CEO of a fishing company in Tema, said rehabilitating the cocoa silos would be a tough proposition. The foreign contractor, Dravichi, who was engaged by Nkrumah to build the silos fled the country after Nkrumah’s overthrow. He later pleaded to be allowed to return to complete the project, but was refused permission. Mr Amponsah recalled.

Mr. Emmanuel Asiedu, a retired official of the Cocoa Board, also told me that it would be difficult to locate many pipes and transmission lines in the abandoned silos, because Dravichi took all the technical drawings away. A lot of excavation will be necessary to locate the pipes and lines.

An indigenously owned business company, Green Fuels Bio-diesel, was later reported to have invested in a project to produce bio-diesel from Jatropha seed in Ghana. The company said it hoped to put the silos to good use as warehouses if permitted.