Cocoa (Theobroma cacao), though not native to Ghana has become one of the country’s main exports and a major foreign exchange earning commodity since its introduction into the then Gold Coast by the highly revered Tetteh Quarshie in 1878.
One country whose name readily comes to mind when one speaks of cocoa is Ghana. Likewise, one cannot think of Ghana without thinking of its cocoa sector, which employs millions of people in the southern tropical belt of the country.
Cocoa has always been at the centre of the country’s debates on development, reforms, and poverty alleviation strategies since the colonial days.
In 1910, the Gold Coast burst onto the world stage as the leading producer of cocoa in the world 32 years after the introduction of the crop into the country.
As of 1936, the Gold Coast was producing over 50% of the world’s total cocoa. The country carved a niche for itself as the go-to country when it comes to cocoa production and for that matter, the production of premium quality cocoa beans widely sought after by cognoscentes and connoisseurs of the global multibillion-dollar cocoa industry.
For 67 years, thus, between 1910 to 1977 Ghana remained at the top as the world’s leading producer of cocoa until 1977 when Brazil clinched the top spot.
Subsequently, in 1979 La Côte d’Ivoire, our neighbouring country overtook Brazil to emerge as the world’s leading producer of Cocoa and has since remained at the top of the league table in international cocoa production with an unassailable lead.
Ghana is currently the second leading producer of cocoa in the world, trailing La Côte d’Ivoire with less than half of La Côte d’Ivoire’s average annual production which stands at a little over 2 million metric tonnes.
Nevertheless, cocoa remains the undisputed backbone of Ghana’s emerging economy and rightly so because of its multiplier effect within Ghana’s burgeoning economy with millions of people benefiting from the cocoa value chain; from production to marketing.
Today though not the leading producer of cocoa, Ghana is well known globally as a respected brand for the production of premium quality cocoa beans highly sought after on the international market.
Despite the overarching importance of cocoa to Ghana’s economy, the country’s cocoa sector is currently faced with a myriad of setbacks and threats.
These include the threat of pests and diseases, the dreaded Cocoa Swollen Shoot and Virus Disease (CSSVD) which affects close to 17% of the total cocoa tree stock, moribund and unproductive cocoa trees which account for over 23% of the total cocoa tree stock, ageing cocoa farmers, rampant smuggling of cocoa beans to neighbouring countries, the effects of climate change and the threat of illegal small scale mining popularly referred to as galamsey among others.
Recently, at a joint board meeting between Ghana Cocoa Board (COCOBOD) and Minerals Commission (MINCOM), the Chief Executive (CE) of COCOBOD; Hon. Joseph Boahen Aidoo expressed grave concern over the alarming rate at which cocoa farms are being destroyed by ‘galamsey’ across the country.
He intimated that more than 19,000 hectares (Ha) of cocoa farms have either been destroyed or affected by ‘galamsey’ activities, leading to a loss of income to cocoa farmers and investments made by COCOBOD and the country at large.
Hon. Aidoo further disclosed that in the Eastern and Western regions, more than 81 and 74 percent, respectively, of cocoa farmlands had been affected by illegal digging and the unregulated use of mercury and other chemicals to extract gold and other precious minerals.
In the Ashanti Region, he said, more than 68 percent of cocoa farm areas were affected by the canker.
He added that another 79.41Ha or two percent of farms that were recently rehabilitated by COCOBOD had either been affected by the menace or were at risk of being affected.
Beyond destroying cocoa trees and farmlands, he said, illegal mining had led to the early dropping of pods, wilting, yellowing of leaves, and the generally low yield of cocoa farms.
Those outcomes, he said, threatened the sustainability of the cocoa sector which generates an average of $2.5 billion in foreign exchange every year, as well as its associated multi-billion-cedi cocoa processing sub-sector and millions of jobs within the cocoa value chain.
Much as COCOBOD is working round the clock to surmount the challenges bedevilling the cocoa sector, for instance, the reloaded Cocoa Diseases and Pest Control (CODAPEC) popularly referred to as Cocoa Mass Spraying to control pests and disease, Cocoa Hi-tech (Subsidized Fertilizer) to replenish reduced soil nutrients levels, the ongoing cocoa rehabilitation program to control CSSVD infected cocoa and re-establish moribund farms, anti-smuggling and anti-galamsey task forces to deal with the twin devils of galamsey and smuggling, it is very expedient to apprise cocoa farmers in Ghana and all relevant stakeholders of the full benefits of cocoa farming so that the decision to either trade off one’s cocoa farm(s) to illegal miners or not would be taken with the full benefit of the ramifications of their choices and decisions.
As it stands now a lot of the cocoa farmers who have given out their farms to galamseyers are not fully aware of the gravity of their decisions and the immediate and future implications.
Cocoa trees can naturally live beyond 100 years. Indeed, two of the original cocoa trees planted by Tetteh Quarshie at Akuapim-Mampong are still standing and bearing fruit 145 years after they were planted.
However, the improved hybrid cocoa variety developed by the Cocoa Research Institute of Ghana (CRIG), a subsidiary of COCOBOD has an estimated productive lifespan of about 30 years.
Some of the advantages of the hybrid variety over the traditional “Tetteh Quarshie” or Amelonado variety include the fact that the hybrid variety establishes easily, it is early bearing (2.5 years), high yielding and has better tolerance for pests and diseases. Every year COCOBOD distributes millions of free hybrid cocoa seedlings for the establishment of new cocoa farms.
COCOBOD technically recommends that an acre of a viable and productive cocoa farm should yield an average of not less than 15 bags per acre within a crop year especially when all Good Agronomic Practices (GAPs) and the relevant Productivity Enhancement Programme (PEPs) activities are strictly adhered to.
This translates to about 38 bags per hectare. A bag of cocoa currently sells at GH¢800 therefore an acre of cocoa yields GH¢12,000 whilst a hectare amounts to a whopping GH¢ 30,400.
So, if the productive lifespan of cocoa is 30 years, then it means that if we extrapolate the value per acre and hectare for the next 30 years without even factoring into the calculation the yearly guaranteed increment in the price per bag by government then the real value of an acre and a hectare of cocoa are GH¢360,000 and GH¢912,000 respectively.
What this literally means is that if a galamseyer (illegal miner) wants to destroy an acre of cocoa farm to illegally mine then he should be prepared to pay the full cost of the value of the cocoa depending on the age class of the cocoa plus the value of the land itself.
I doubt any galamseyer can pay for the real value of an acre or a hectare of a cocoa farm before mining.
I would therefore like to appeal to our gallant cocoa farmers, our chiefs and their elders, Assembly/Unit Committee Members and all stakeholders to resist the temptation of giving out farmlands especially cocoa farmlands for mining.
Let us understand that mineral wealth is finite but cocoa farming is a life-long activity that could be passed on from one generation to another.
Yes, cocoa farming in Ghana might be fraught with some challenges including low productivity and declining income levels of cocoa farmers, but galamsey is not and can never be the panacea to the challenges confronting cocoa farmers.
Cocoa farming represents a better land use for sustainable development in line with 9 out of the 17 United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs): 1. No poverty 2. Zero Hunger 3. Good health and well-being 6. Clean water and sanitation 8. Decent work and economic growth 11. Sustainable cities and communities 13. Climate action 14. Life below water and 15. Life on land.
Let us therefore encourage our people to instead invest in cocoa farming than illegal mining which has so far proven to be a big albatross hanging around our necks.
The evidence of the wanton and widespread destruction of lands, cocoa farms, forests and water bodies by the unbridled activities of illegal miners is clearly available for all to see.
We are in this together! Much as the government is doing everything possible within its power to clamp down on illegal mining activities through various joint military/police/security agencies operations like Operation Vanguard, Operation Calm Life and the regulatory activities of the Interministerial Committee in Illegal Mining (IMCIM) etc. COCOBOD, the cocoa industry regulator, must continue to work together with cocoa farmers to improve their productivity and average yield per acre which currently stands at a paltry 3 bags.
We must also educate cocoa farmers and indeed all Ghanaians to understand that cocoa farming and for that matter agriculture is life and that it has enormous benefits for humanity.
No galamseyer can pay for the full value of a cocoa farm and so when one takes a small amount of money which would be dissipated as quickly as it came in exchange for a generational asset like a cocoa farm posterity would not forgive us for this travesty.
Let us do our bit for our country, for humanity and for generations yet unborn whilst we find ourselves here.
Our elders say “when you cut your tongue and chew you have not chewed any better meat”, what at all would we gain when we destroy our farmlands in the name of mining? A word to the wise is enough.
May the Almighty God continue to bless our homeland Ghana and make her great and strong.