The Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Ghana Cocoa Board (COCOBOD), has assured that the Mahama government would continue to initiate policies and programmes that would better the lots of Ghanaian cocoa farmers.
Cocoa farming, has been made a very lucrative venture in recent times with farmers getting free hybrid seedlings, free fertilizer and free insecticides.
They are only required to clear the land, plant the seedlings, produce and sell to COCOBOD agents with nearly US$2 billion to purchase the dried beans for export.
The freebees to the farmers, came on the instructions of President John Mahama himself, who wants to rival Cote D’ivoire’s 1.565 million metric tons production per annum. He was also the brain behind the massive US$450-million Cocoa Roads in all six cocoa-growing regions across the country since 2013.
According to Dr. Stephen Kwabena Opuni, aside its core mandate, COCOBOD, is focused on some key Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) activities covering important sectors such as education, health and infrastructure, which are being intensified by the Mahama administration, to impact positively on the lives of cocoa farmers and Ghanaians at large.
The CEO, gave the assurance when he addressed cocoa farmers and members of the public, at Tepa in the Ashanti Region, last Saturday, as part of COCOBOD’s national Cocoa Day celebration, which also marked the beginning of the new cocoa crop season.
It was during this event that farmers were told Ghana, would pay cocoa farmers GH¢7,600 cedis (US$1,914) per tonne of beans during the 2016-17 season, nearly 12 percent more than last crop year. This is above what Cote D’Ivoire is paying its farmers for the coming season.
In the area of education for instance, Dr. Opuni, said the Board, has continued with it Cocoa Scholarship Award Scheme instituted in 1951 (the oldest of all the support services to farmers) as part of its welfare services to cocoa farmers for the education of their wards in Government–Assisted Second Cycle Institutions.
He continued that over the past 16 years, the Scholarship Unit, has managed to give a total of Forty Nine Thousand, Eight Hundred and Thirty (49,830) awards to qualified applicants.
“The assistance provided by the Scheme has helped many beneficiaries to pursue their careers and most of them are now occupying various high positions of trust in the country and abroad. A recent review of allocations to wards of farmers who actually attended basic school at the cocoa communities to 80 percent has led to significant rise in awards in the past few years.
COCOBOD has, for the past 2 years, cumulatively increased its yearly cocoa scholarship awards for new entrants and continuing students in Government Assisted Senior High Institutions by 46.1percent ”, Dr. Opuni said.
In the 2014/15 academic year, Management of COCOBOD increased the number of awards in the academic year from 3,800 to a record high of 5,000- the highest, since the scheme was started in 1951. This represents about 36.1percent.
COCOBOD has again increased the number of new awards for the 2015/16 academic year to 5,500, an increase of 10 percent, bringing the current total number of beneficiaries in Government Assisted Second Cycle Schools to 12,500.
The Board, has also introduced a child education support programme to provide educational assistance in deprived cocoa growing communities with a view of eliminating Worst Forms of Child Labour (WFCL) in cocoa production.
Under this programme, new school buildings are being built and old ones are going through rehabilitation to create the necessary atmosphere for effective basic education delivery in selected cocoa communities.
The Phase 1 of the Programme which started in the 2015/16 season involves 14 school buildings in 14 cocoa districts across the six cocoa regions. The package comprises a 6-Unit classroom block, Crèche/Kindergarten 1 and 2, and a head teacher’s office with a secretariat. Other ancillary facilities include good drainage system, restroom/toilet, and borehole water systems equipped with hand pumps among others.
COCOBOD, helped in the building of the trust schools. In 1958, the Board granted the defunct Ghana Educational Trust an amount of 5 million Cedis for the building of Secondary Schools in various parts of the country.
The Trust used the amount in financing the building of 26 Secondary Schools including Apam, Yaa Asantewaa, Ghana National, Labone, Kadjebi, Sunyani, Akim Oda, Konogo Odumase, Axim and Asankragwa among others. The objective of this scheme was to encourage the youth of the rural districts to continue their secondary school education in their own localities.
The Akuafo Hall of University of Ghana, Legon, was built with funds from COCOBOD. The Board also supports Agricultural clubs in tertiary institutions. An example is the Cocoa Advocates Movement Club in the University of Professional Studies in Accra. These clubs help members to appreciate the opportunities the cocoa industry presents to today’s youth and encourage them to seize them.
On infrastructure, Dr. Opuni, mentioned the Cocoa Road Project in the six cocoa growing regions, Ashanti, Brong Ahafo, Central, Western, Eastern and Volta.
The project which started last year after the Board secured a loan to rehabilitate these roads in the next five years is to facilitate the transportation of cocoa beans to buying centres and improving upon the livelihood of cocoa farmers to make cocoa farming attractive to especially the youth.
The funding agent is Ghana Cocoa Board and depending on the nature of the roads, contractors have between 12-18 months to complete work. The Project started with a total of 628 km of cocoa roads comprising highways, urban and feeder roads for the phase I.
Since the implementation began, several kilometers of roads have been added onto the initial stretch of roads earmarked for construction. Over 1,000 kilometers of cocoa roads are currently under construction and progressing at various stages of completion.
“COCOBOD is hopeful that as the programme is being sustained, roads linking cocoa communities would be rehabilitated to reduce post-harvest loses caused by difficulties in carting farm produces from the hinterlands to buying centres”, Dr. Opuni said.
The Board’s annual supply of free hybrid seedlings to cocoa farmers increased from 20 million in the initial attempt in 2013 to 50 million in the 2014/2015 crop year and subsequently to 60 million seedlings in the 2015/16 crop season throughout 332 nursery sites across the country for distribution to farmers.
To ensure uninterrupted supply of water to the nursery sites, COCOBOD further constructed boreholes at locations close to the sites to be used to irrigate the seedlings and later, for the use of the communities around the catchment areas.
Dr. Opuni noted that the challenges confronting the cocoa industry in Ghana include declining soil fertility, ageing cocoa farmers, over-aged cocoa farms, lack of interest by the youth to go into cocoa farming, climate change, cocoa swollen shoot virus and other pests and diseases that attack cocoa farms, were not peculiar to the nation alone.
But the CEO was quick to assure the farmers that, the Board with support from the Mahama Government will, continue to support the cocoa farmers to address these challenges.
“We will continue to support our cocoa farmers with the free fertilizer programme to improve upon soil fertility. Moreover, we will continue with the free mass spraying programme. Apart from that our extension Officers in the cocoa growing communities are educating our farmers to adhere to good agronomic practices, COCOBOD also educates farmers on methods of early detection and eradication of CSSV affected cocoa trees”, he said.
A Deputy Minister of Finance, Cassiel Ato Forson, who announced the new cocoa price to farmers at the programme said, the sector remains pivotal to the transformation of the country.
He noted with delight, the proactive steps being taken by COCOBOD, to increase farmer access to extension services, fertilizer and other inputs as well as rehabilitation of old and diseased cocoa farms.
Mr. Forson said available statistics indicate that the average cocoa farmer is over 50years old, and the average cocoa farm in about 30years adding these are two major challenges faced by the cocoa sector.
“I am delighted that the COCOBOD has taken measures to tackle these. The COCOBOD has embarked on a vigorous rehabilitation of cocoa farms, distribution of free seedlings, free fertilizer and intensified cocoa extension.
We are particularly delighted with programme to attract the youth into cocoa farming. The high population of aged farmers signifies a clear need of the youth to jump on board.
The role of the youth in transforming the cocoa industry in Ghana is more critical today than ever. Therefore, Nana Chairman, the theme of today’s celebration, that is, “transforming cocoa production; the role of the youth” cannot be better”, he said.
He was particularly excited and described as “appropriate”, the decision by COCOBOD to initiate programmes to encourage and support the youth to successfully undertake cocoa production as their main occupation.
Mr. Forson commended the COCOBOD, for successfully going to the capital market over the past 24 years, to issue bonds for financing cocoa purchases and other operations, without default and an enviable and competitive rate. Just last month, COCOBOD, secured a syndicated loan of $1.8Billion from 24 banks abroad for the 2016/17 crop season.
According to him, that feat has made COCOBOD syndication, the world’s largest soft commodity export syndication and challenged other SOEs to learn from the Board as they have become a world example.
He reiterated Government’s commitment to transform the sector in a manner that causes a positive and permanent change in the lives of cocoa farmers and all stakeholders in the value chain.
“Together, let us continue to work to strengthen this industry and improve the living conditions of our dear cocoa farmers”, he encouraged.