Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Illusive prosperity despite cocoa bonanza

Andrews Adam, 68, runs his hands through cocoa beans dried on a wooden mat, turning them so sunshine could settle through the rest. Andrew is one of the many cocoa farmers in a small village called Kyensindaahun in Enchi- Western Region with a population deeply embedded in most of the cocoa forests.

He has six children with his ex-wife. He smells of alcohol and has tagged a piece of cigarette at the back of his left ear.

Contrary to perception that cocoa farmers are very wealthy, Mr. Adam’s life doesn’t portray that. He manages three different cocoa farms, one of the largest in the village. His personal life story is very much of a memoir stylistically weaved in a collection of feature stories. Though his mind is sharp and speaks audibly enough for one to comprehend, his words were most of the times muffled especially because of the intake of alcohol.

“I have been a cocoa farmer all my life,” he said. “My father was a millet farmer up in the northern part of Ghana but I learnt the trade from my late uncle.”

The said uncle died when Adam was barely in his thirties but was able to take over the business because “I have been exposed enough to the basic skills involved in farming.”

Though he’s been living in this tiny village for several decades, he’s unable to recall the exact date and doesn’t have much to show for the cocoa farms he owns. He lives in a shack-a small single room constructed with clay and the top covered with dried palm fronds as roofing. He has no electricity or portable drinking water.

The main source of water supply is a stream flowing about 600metres from his hamlet which also serves as a swimming spot for most of the young children in the villages.

“All of us here are cocoa farmers but our lives are a contradiction to how much money cocoa should give us.”

Ghana is one of the leading producers of cocoa with production levels said to rake in millions of dollars by way of foreign exchange. Perhaps second to Cote D’ivoire in terms of quality and pricing, the country’s cocoa has always been in high demand and almost on a daily basis, tons of raw cocoa beans are shipped across the two main ports of Ghana to several parts of the world, including Europe and America.

Currently government pays the farmers GHS138 per bag of raw beans which is a slight improvement from the previous GHS120, but farmers like Adams believe the money is way inadequate.
Kwabena Duffour, Finance and Economic Planning Minister, told parliament late last month that government expects that a production target of 1,000,000 tons a year will be met. Government also announced in October that it has set aside a seed money of GHS15million for the establishment of the Cocoa Farmers Social Security Fund.

Again, the Ghana COCOBOD is reported by government to have paid outstanding bonuses totaling GHS21.2 million for the 2008/2009 cocoa season. However farmers like Andrews Adam say they are running at serious deficits.

“The amount of money some of us invest in the business is not what we get from it,” he said pointing his right hand to a warehouse where they store their bags of cocoa.

“We employ the services of farm hands and you can’t tell them you made a loss so they should forget about being paid. They’ll need their monies at the end of work.”

Then there is also the issue of failed projections which Adam and some few farmers who spoke to the dailyEXPRESS said has often compelled them to borrow but end up running into debts.

“So why won’t some of our people smuggle the beans to Cote D’ivoire and sell them over there at a reasonable price.”

Most farmers in cocoa growing villages and towns in Ghana are often reported to be smuggling their beans to neighbouring Cote D’ivoire where the pricing is reported to be better than what is paid most of the farmers in Ghana. However some farmers told me it’s a risky venture to pursue since one is likely to be punished by the government if caught.

"Certainly you can’t eat your beans like that so you just give them away no matter the reservations you have against the pricing,” a 24 year old cocoa Purchasing Clerk in a village called Motoso said.
Mr. Adam’s neighbour is also a cocoa farmer. He is called Christian Odikro, 42, married with four children. He says life is very hard for cocoa farmers in this part of town.

Fresh from the farm and holding a basket Mr. Odikro was all smiles when I approached him for an interview. He jovially turns around the beans on the wooden mat with the help of his friend Adam, whilst responding to the questions I put to him.

He tells the dailyEXPRESS he pays about GHS300 to a year to educate his three children. For most wealthy people in big cities that money is pittance, but for Christian and his family that is quite a lot of money.

“I managed to harvest only ten bags this past season which is woefully in inadequate,” he told me as his wife looks on. “I’m indebted to several people but the money to pay them is not there.”

Though thousands of bags of cocoa beans are taken out of the villages almost on a daily basis and sent to the shipping ports and subsequently sent abroad, the road networks leading to the villages remain untarred, creating clouds of dust anytime vehicles pass through them. Portions of the dust either settle on the green leaves or are inhaled by the people in the communities, likely to create respiratory infection in most of them.

A nurse at the Presbyterian Health Service which is offering services to the people in neigbouring communities says most of the patients suffer from severe respiratory problems. The health centre is however 5 miles of walking from Kyensindaahun and Christian Odikro tells me inhabitants walk on foot anytime they need medical support.

“We are used to people dying even before we contemplate taking them to the hospital because they’ll never make it.”

Government has meanwhile announced a plan to construct roads leading to the cocoa growing and farming areas of the country. When the dailyEXPRESS informed them of government’s plans, they responded with appreciation but said they’ve heard of such plans in the past and are hopeful that President John Mills will not be like the others.

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