..Ex-COCOBOD executive tells court
A former Deputy Executive Director of the Cocoa Health and Extension Division (CHED) of the Ghana Cocoa Board (COCOBOD), has told an Accra High Court that, the application of Lithovit Liquid fertiliser by cocoa farmers, enabled Ghana to produce its second-highest cocoa yield in the country’s history.
‘As I sit here, I know that the yield on production that was realised during the period of application of Lithovit Liquid Fertiliser in 2016/2017 was the second-highest production in the history of cocoa production in Ghana up to 2019/2020, and the figure was nine hundred and sixty-nine thousand metric tonnes,” Peter Okyere Boateng, told the court under cross-examination by the state prosecutors on Wednesday, 8 November 2023.
He has been the seventh defence witness in the GH¢217-million financial loss case against former COCOBOD CEO, Stephen Opuni, businessman Seidu Agongo and agrochemical supplier, Agricult Ghana Limited.
He said the cocoa trees to which Lithovit was applied produced “massive loads of pods” and “I provided data to support it”, explaining: “Data is information and it’s not only figures that constitute data. I provided pictures of cocoa trees carrying massive loads of pods”.
“By the time I went to the field, it was the middle of the harvesting season. So, the pods were on the trees to be harvested and recorded as data. So, you can’t expect an instant cocoa production data. Meanwhile, I have given data on heavy loads of pods the trees carried,” he told the court when confronted by the prosecution team that he had no data to back his claim.
Pressed further by the prosecution that: “You don’t have a single report to show your supposed efficacy of Lithovit Liquid Fertiliser,” Mor Boateng replied: “My Lord, I went to the field, and observed that the Lithovit Liquid Fertiliser has facilitated the production of high volumes of pods. I wrote a report on it for the COCOBOD management. So, there is a report on it. And apart from that, there is a report or data available at COCOBOD which indicates that a peak cocoa production was realised, as a results from these large volumes of pods from cocoa trees. So, the 996,000 metrics tonnes of cocoa that was produced is also a report”.
He said even though he did not, personally, inspect the performance of the crop in every cocoa region, his representatives gave him the same feedback about how Lithovit helped to increase yield.
“I wrote a report which was accepted by the COCOBOD management, to the extent that the recommendations made on Lithovit Liquid Fertiliser were accepted and implemented. So, the official position, as of 2015 that I wrote about, is what I talk about. And I was an official worker of COCOBOD at that time”.
Put to him that his “alleged official position on Lithovit Liquid Fertiliser is only a conjuncture because it is not captured anywhere,” Mr Boateng answered: “In the first place, I don’t know what ‘your anywhere’ refers to because the report went to COCOBOD management. So, the information is captured at COCOBOD. And by implementing the recommendation in the report means management took the decision. Since it was a matter within COCOBOD, you don’t expect it to be at anywhere except COCOBOD and it is there”.
Confronted by the prosecutor that what is captured on record and which is before the court are the findings of the Adu Ampomah Committee officially set up by COCOBOD to investigate Lithovit Liquid Fertiliser, Mr Boateng responded: “My Lord, in fact, I never knew of any committee. What I know is that, farmers applied the LLF. I went to them in their farms and observed the massive performance of the fertiliser and farmers also gave high commendation about the performance of the fertiliser. My Lord, I wrote a report on all these. Then, when I came to this court, that report was shown to me and I was asked to comment on it. So, what I know is my report on which several questions have been asked at this honourable court”.
Two days earlier, Mr Boateng told the court that businessman Seidu Agongo did not, in any way, influence the recommendation for the increase in the supply of Lithovit Liquid Fertiliser from 700,000 to one million litres in 2015.
Mr Boateng said his recommendation was based on his observations during his field visits to various cocoa farms to ascertain the performance of Lithovit liquid fertiliser as well as other agrochemicals.
Asked by Mr Benson Nutsukpui, lead counsel for Mr Agongo and Agricult (second and third accused persons, respectively), whether his recommendation was a favour to the businessman, Mr Boateng said: “I did my work, and from my observations and comments received from cocoa farmers who had applied the Lithovit, I made a recommendation for management. So, as far as I know, it is my recommendation that was upheld. But as to whether someone is being favoured or not, I can’t speak to it”.
Pressed further on the same issue by Mr Nutsukpui during his cross-examination on Tuesday, 7 November 2023, Mr Boateng responded: “I was doing my official duty as the deputy director in charge of M&E and nobody had influence in my work, therfore, no: I was not doing anybody a favour. I even didn’t know the 2nd and 3rd accused at the time”.
During an earlier cross-examination on Thursday, 2 November 2023, Mr Boateng said Lithovit Liquid Fertiliser “performed magic” for the cocoa farms that used it, to the extent that the farmers mounted pressure on all the seven regional directors of the Cocoa Health and Extension Division (CHED), to clamour for more supplies of the agrochemical for their areas.
Mr Okyere Boateng said the seven cocoa regions: Western North, Western South, Bono Ahafo, Ashanti, Central, Eastern and Volta, could not wait to have their supply of the fertiliser increased.
Asked by Mr Nutsukpui to: ‘Kindly tell this honorable court, with respect of Lithovit, how many of the regional managers, with respect to Lithovit, talk to you more in their regions’, Mr Okyere Boateng said: “The whole of the seven regional managers”, adding: “Even those whose regions did not receive supplies of the Lithovit fertiliser came lobbying for the Lithovit fertiliser for their farmers, because the farmers were putting pressure on them to get them the chemical”.
He reiterated he had never met Mr Agongo until he started coming to testify in the case, in which Dr Opuni and the businessman, as well as his company, are being trialled on 27 counts, including willfully causing financial loss to the state and contravention of the Public Procurement Act in the purchase of Lithovit liquid fertiliser between 2014 and 2016.
“I have already said it in my evidence that I had never met A2 [Seidu Agongo] with the five years until I came to this honorable court”.
“I have sworn by the Bible, which is the foundation of my Christian belief, and by that, I stand to say that I never ever knew any official from Agricult”, he answered when asked if he knew any official from Mr Agongo’s company, too.
Asked by Mr Nutsukpui if it was true that the regional managers who were lobbying for Lithovit, did so because of its efficacy, Mr Okyere Boateng replied: “That is exactly the reason they gave me for lobbying for more of the Lithovit fertiliser”.
“In fact”, he added, “My Lord, they told me that, the performance of the Lithovit that their farmers applied, had performed magic in the sense that, the farms had produced beyond imagination”.
He said he was challenged by his regional directors to visit the farms to see for himself.
Based on that, Mr Okyere Boateng said he visited Brong Ahafo in April 2015 with one technical officer while other officers visited the other regions from the monitoring and evaluation department.
He also said he visited some farms in Bechem.
“There are six cocoa districts. And, therefore, it is not only Bechem that I visited. Meaning, yes, I visited Bechem. But, my Lord, let it be understood that I did not visit Bechem township”.
He explained that: “When any official visits the field, the visit is termed operational. And that is to perform activities in the field. And again, my Lord, with the farmers or the field staff, either separately or together”.
“Is it true that all the six cocoa districts that you visited on the April 2015 visit, had their farmers earlier supplied with Lithovit fertiliser?” he was asked, to which he responded: “…The farms that I visited with the field staff were varied in terms of the fertilisers that were supplied. Therefore, I didn’t visit only Lithovit-applied farms”.
With his visit to the farms the used Lithovit, Mr Okyere Boateng told the court that “one of the objectives of my field visit, and for that matter, all the other staff, was to ascertain the results of the farms sprayed with Lithovit fertiliser. Therefore, yes, I visited farms sprayed in all the six districts in the Bono Ahafo cocoa region”.
He clarified that the Lithovit used by the farmers was the same Lithovit supplied by COCOBOD.
“COCOBOD is the only source of supply of the Lithovit fertiliser to the farmers”, he noted.
He said the farmers were full of praise for the agrochemical during his visit.
“What I, personally, observed in the field and what the farmers that I happened to meet in the farms said — the kind of commendation — was the same thing the regional managers [said] as the reason why I should come to the filed, and, also, lobbying for more supplies of the Lithovit in their regions”.
Asked if he saw any farmer drink the agrochemical as a substitute for water, the witness answered: “My Lord, a big no”, adding: “And I wouldn’t expect any farmer who has gone through CHED extension education to even taste any agrochemical, let alone drink it. Let me add that the farmers have been trained to look at every agrochemical as a potential poison, irrespective of the actual toxicity level or cidal effect, that is the killing ability”.
He also said no farmer ever complained to him or his officers about Lithovit liquid fertiliser.
“My Lord, I never received any form of complaint from the farmers that I met on the farms. Rather, it was all commendation and singing of praises on the efficacy of the fertiliser”.
“I have said here several [times], that all regional managers, including the Eastern Regional Manager, came praising the Lithovit fertiliser and they were craving for more supply and, therefore, I never received any complaints from the Eastern Regional Manager. Though, I personally did not go to the Eastern Region because some of my staff went there, and they never brought any report that seeks to complain. So, as far as I am concerned, no complaints about the Lithovit liquid fertiliser in the Eastern came to my attention”.
He clarified to the court that they were all talking about the same agrochemical and none other when they made reference to lithovit liquid fertiliser.
“My Lord, that is only one Lithovit liquid fertiliser that I know, so are my officers. And that is the Agricult liquid fertiliser”.
“And when your regional managers lobbied you for more of lithovit, and you forwarded same to the Executive Director of the CHED at the time, that the number of Lithovit be increased, you were all talking about Lithovit fertiliser, that is correct?” asked Mr Nutsukpui.
“Yes. It was nothing but Lithovit fertiliser.”