Ghana’s Cocoa Farmers Pension Scheme Starts In Days Amid Concerns By Some Farmers. Here’s Why
Ghana’s cocoa regulator, Cocobod, is set to roll out a pension scheme for cocoa farmers for the first time in the country’s history.
Thirty-seven years ago, the erstwhile military junta, Provisional National Defence Council (PNDC), passed a law to have the scheme established.
Section 26 of the Ghana Cocoa Board Law, 1984 (PNDCL 81) was envisaged to protect cocoa farmers by guaranteeing a decent pension income after retirement.
But the junta itself failed to operationalise the legislation, and so did subsequent governments.
Finally, in December 2020, the sitting president Nana Akufo-Addo launched the Cocoa Farmers Pension Scheme in fulfilment of his electioneering promise.
The scheme is open to all cocoa farmers in Ghana to make voluntary contributions towards their future.
The Chief Executive Officer of the National Pensions Regulatory Authority (NPRA), Hayford Atta Krufi, explains that five percent (5%) of the value of the cocoa beans sold by farmers will be deducted electronically and credited to their account.
“Administrators of the scheme have a digital arrangement whereby anytime you sell [a minimum] 20kg of cocoa, 5% will be deducted and put into your account. Every cocoa farmer will have an account. The account is divided into two – a savings account and the retirement account”, Mr Krufi said.
He added that consultations are ongoing to have the cocoa sector regulator and the sole off-taker of cocoa farmers’ produce, Ghana Cocoa Board, add a counterpart contribution of one percent (1%) for every 5% contributed by the farmer.
Spokesperson for the Board, Fiifi Boafo, says officials are working frantically to operationalise the Scheme without delay.
A pilot registration, he announced, is set to commence from Monday 30th August 2021 in the New Edubiase District of the Ashanti Region.
“This is in preparation for the roll out ahead of the 2021/22 cocoa season,” Boafo hinted.
Some 1.5 million cocoa farmers are expected to be captured onto the pension scheme.
Meanwhile, Cocobod is undertaking a nationwide mapping of all cocoa farms, farmers and their households under a digital database known as the Cocoa Management System (CMS).
Officials say the CMS seeks to identify and issue farmers with Cocoa Cards, a prerequisite for enrollment onto the Cocoa Farmers Pensions Scheme.
The pilot exercise is to be undertaken jointly by Cocobod, the National Pensions Regulatory Authority (NPRA) and the Trustees for the Pension Scheme.
But ahead of the start of the pilot, a Kumasi-based farmer group, Ghana National Cocoa Farmers Association (GNACOFA) has been in the media expressing a litany of misgivings.
Association president, Stephenson Anane Boateng, accuses Cocobod of sidelining the Board of Trustees.
“When the President launched the scheme, a Board of Trustees was unveiled but as I speak now, the board has not been inaugurated to steer the affairs of the scheme let alone a secretariat to do their business,” he lamented.
Boateng, a member of the now nominal Board of Trustees, told Cocoa Post that GNACOFA takes issue with the upcoming pilot registration on grounds that there has been no engagement with farmers on the modalities.
“Cocoa farmers are not employees of Cocobod. Therefore an important intervention such as the Cocoa Farmers Pension Scheme cannot be operated by Cocobod without our involvement,” the GNACOFA president insisted.
He said the association expected Cocobod to dialogue with farmers to solicit their input and ideas towards building a robust scheme.
For him, broader consultation with interest groups including farmers could also help in operationalising Section 27 of the Law, which establishes cocoa farmers Welfare Fund.
“A welfare fund will take care of things like mutual health insurance, allowances and bonuses, incidental contributions, among other benefits,” he opined.
GNACOFA’s concerns, Anane Boateng explained, springs from the past experience with the Cocoa Scholarship scheme introduced in the name of cocoa farmers, yet benefited everybody but cocoa farmers.
He also cited facilities like the Cocoa Clinic which was established for Cocobod staff but none for cocoa farmers, the geese that laid the golden eggs.
The GNACOFA president, nonetheless, praised Cocobod for exceptional work done on its Farm Support mandate implemented through interventions like extension services, subsidised fertilizer, mass pruning and spraying and hand pollination.
The association says it boasts a membership of over five hundred thousand including full-time farmers, absentee farmers and farmhands, but Cocoa Post cannot independently verify the claim.
Responding to some of the group’s concerns, Chief Executive of Ghana Cocoa Board Joseph Boahen Aidoo, told Cocoa Post, “already some work is being done. Something that has not been done for [37 years], it cannot be the case that within one year it should happen without knowing your farmers.“
“But first things first, we have to get the farmer database in place. Without the farmer database who is going to register?” he quizzed.
“They’ve finished with southern Ghana…once they capture all the information and we know these are farmers, then we’ll know who will qualify for the pension scheme,” Aidoo added.
The Cocobod boss, however, cautioned the media against engaging with “wayside associations.”
“Every cooperative, society, farmer group have registered with Cocobod. But this group you’re talking about we don’t know them, yet they go about carrying stories and always attacking” he bemoaned.
He explained why an association or farmer group may not be engaged as far as policy consultation is concerned.
“We are the regulators, we event don’t know them. I have been here for the past 4years, I don’t know the membership, nothing. And they are not in our records anywhere,” the Chief Executive emphasised.