“Over the years, I have been jotting down all the costs incurred in the production season. And I record losses, despite all the costly investments in labour and input because the price of cocoa does not factor our cost of production,” says Millicent Boateng, a female cocoa farmer.
Millicent is one of the very few women left in the cocoa production business at Asakyire in the Bekwai Municipal Area of Ghana’s Ashanti Region, a prolific cocoa-growing hub.
“Labour cost for weeding, pruning and chemical application has become so costly, fertilizer prices have almost tripled in a twinkle of an eye, likewise the price of agrochemicals,” she explained.
According to Millicent, most of the youth in the community would rather work in dangerous illegal gold mining pits than accept the pittance offered by cocoa farmers in labour fees.
Farmers say illegal gold mining (galamsey) is raging like a hurricane in several cocoa farming communities in the region.
The mining gangs devour forests and cocoa farms alike leaving in their tracts soil and waterbodies poisoned by toxic chemicals, notably mercury and cyanide.
For Millicent, the woefully low price for cocoa is now serving as the fuel for the rapid advancement of illegal gold mining activities in Asakyire and its environs.
“Galamsey is not only out-competing cocoa production for labour, but land as well. Several farmers have willingly surrendered their cocoa farms to illegal miners in return for juicy cash settlement,” she recounted.
According to the sector regulator, Ghana Cocoa Board, between 2019 and 2020 more than 19,000 hectares of productive cocoa farms in two regions were ravaged by illegal gold miners.
Several causes have been identified as contributing to the phenomenon; namely farmer poverty, youth unemployment and impunity by the illegal gold miners.
Noah Oppong, a sexagenarian, told Cocoa Post‘s editor Kojo Hayford that the only occupation he has known all his life is cocoa farming, “but I have nothing to show for it.”
“I am 60 years old but I cannot boast of GHS60 in savings. It means that all my hard work in cocoa production has been unprofitable and in vain,” he regretted.
Oppong emphasised, “My point is this, cocoa farmers urgently need a better price for their produce to afford them improved livelihoods. Interventions like the cocoa farmers’ pension scheme are also critical for us to fall on when we are no more in active labour. It will help us a lot.”
The experienced cocoa grower stated unequivocally that better pricing for cocoa can only be achieved when farmers’ cost of production is captured among the determining factors.
Anthony Opoku, a cocoa farmer from Dotom, another cocoa-growing community in the Bekwai Municipal Area, shares similar sentiments.
“One of our biggest challenges currently is the meagre income from cocoa production. For this reason, many cocoa farmers have become susceptible to cash inducements from illegal gold miners,” he said.
Opoku stated that although it is regrettable that very productive cocoa farms are being destroyed for gold, he would also not blame his colleagues as their actions may be motivated by a sheer quest for survival.
“That is not to say that the destruction of farms and degradation of forests is justifiable,” but most smallholder cocoa farmers are drowning in poverty and would need to cling to something to keep body and soul together.
“Cocoa farmers are rational too and desire better earnings. When you compare the returns from cocoa production with all the effort and investment, honestly it makes no business sense keeping a cocoa farm,” he underscored.
Out of frustration, some cocoa farmers in the Western, Eastern and Central Regions are also reported to be shifting gradually to rubber or oil palm production in place of cocoa for better incomes.
Emmanuel Opoku Acheampong, the President of the Baakoye Cocoa Farmers Union, is convinced the prevailing situation signifies cocoa farmers’ disinterest in continuing the pointless campaign as years of persistent complaints about poor pricing have fallen on deaf ears.
But contrary to the obvious hopelessness, Alex Assanvo the Executive Secretary of Cote d’Ivoire Ghana Cocoa Initiative (CIGCI), assured the cocoa farmers of a better future.
CIGCI is a joint governmental effort by Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire, who together produce two-thirds of the world’s cocoa.
They hope to leverage their joint force in the market to deliver sustainable prices and improved livelihood for the millions of smallholder farmers responsible for their annual crop.
For the first time since assuming office in Accra, about one year ago, Assanvo travelled to the Ashanti Region in April to engage a cross-section of cocoa farmers in their homestead.
“It’s important to get close to the farmers to hear and see how you work and your situations, because we are fighting for you so it’s always important to listen also to the people we fight for,” he indicated.
Assanvo assured the farmers that all their concerns are valid, explaining it is the reason the two Presidents agreed to work together in finding a lasting solution to the shared challenges.
“My priority is to get a better price. And when I say the cost of production; cost of labour, input, fertilizer all this cost so that at least the price will cover that,” Alex Assanvo pledged.
He encouraged cocoa farmers in Ghana and Ivory Coast to remain hopeful and support the activities of CIGCI with their voice towards the realisation of the set goals.
“It takes a lot of time, because we need to engage the stakeholders, we need to engage the governments.
But I want to tell you that this is key, because if you produce, and anyone producing anything who is not being paid minimum the cost of production, then we cannot talk about sustainability, so that’s my objective and this is why I am doing this work,” he stressed.
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