The government of Nana Akufo-Addo, has indefinitely suspended the reconstruction of cocoa roads awarded two year ago, the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of COCOBOD, Joseph Boahen Aidoo, has announced.
The decision according to Mr. Boahen Aidoo, is to enable the administration completes investigations into discrepancies concerning some of the contruct awarded and the GH¢3 billion debt the new government inherited as a result of the programme.
The COCOBOD management, claims the programme, although laudable, was abused with construction of roads where cocoa was not grown, leaving huge debts for the institution.
In June 2015, the then president, John Dramani Mahama, cut sod for the rehabilitation of roads in cocoa-growing areas across the country at Adeiso in the Eastern region, after COCOBOD received a $450-million package for that purpose.
But according to the new CEO who replaced Dr. Stephen Kwabena Opuni, under whose tenure the funds for the project was acquired, the board owes a Gh¢10billion debt, GH¢3billion of which is as a result of the cocoa road programme by the previous administration.
The Chief Executive, said this when he met with senior editors last Tuesday in Accra to familiarize with them and also abreast them on issues concerning the sector.
He described cocoa roads programme as a fantastic one, because of what it sought to cure, but said it was unfortunately riddled with some challenges, which need to be addressed before it resumes for the benefit of farmers in those regions.
Out of the ten regions, five regions; Ashanti, Brong Ahafo, Western, Eastern and Central regions, grow the crop, which has been the backbone of the economy.
Aside the Board owing so much and part of it as a result of the cocoa road programme, some of the road contracts, instead of being in the aforementioned regions, were awarded in areas where the crop was not grown, contradicting the intention and purpose for the programme.
This meant that, COCOBOD, automatically had to play the supervisory role of such roads, instead of the Roads and Highways Ministry.
The Chief Executive, could not tell when contractors, will be ordered to go back to work, as he said the issue was still being looked into by some auditors.
Meanwhile, beginning this crop season, COCOBOD, will introduce 7,000 human pollinators to enhance cocoa yields in the years ahead.
Mr. Boahen Aidoo, said through hand pollination, the country would be able to reverse the long period of low crop yields being experienced by farmers.
According to Mr. Boahen Aidoo, whereas in some countries, including Malaysia, cocoa yield was as much as two tonnes per hectare, Ghana, the second largest producer after Cote d’Ivoire, recorded a yield of 0.45 tonnes per hectare, a situation which needed to be reversed.
The effect of application of agro-chemicals, was that there was a drop in the natural pollinators on the farms, hence the low yield.
As part of the steps to increase cocoa yield, the CEO, said the 7,000 personnel were being recruited to form the hand pollination crew that would apply pollen materials directly into the cocoa flowers across the country for increased yield.
“We are targeting to record about 100 pods to 50 pods per cocoa tree compared to the 25 pods to 30 pods per tree we record currently,” he projected.
The former Western Regional Minister said, about 23 percent of Ghana’s cocoa tree stock, covering some 411,000 hectares, had become unproductive due to their old age, and funds were being sought to rehabilitate them.
As part of efforts to achieve the production target of 1 million tonnes of cocoa by 2020, the CEO, said irrigation would be introduced in the cocoa industry to provide sufficient moisture for cocoa trees.
Another challenge which affected Ghana’s cocoa production over the past few years, was that 17 percent of all the tree stock was attacked by viral diseases, but the CEO, said a spraying gang would be formed nationwide to spray all cocoa farms.
“An increased yield will not only help retain existing farmers on the job but will also make cocoa farming once more attractive for the youth to take up as a profession. We want to make sure we have more youth in cocoa farming,” Aidoo added.
COCOBOD, he mentioned was in discussion with the African Development Bank (ADB) to grant a loan to incentivize Ghanaian youth into the cocoa growing.
Mr. Boahen Aidoo, said although world market prices for cocoa were unfavourable; the regulator would not reduce the current producer price for farmers, but won’t be able to pay bonus to the cocoa farmers.