“Sometimes I cry. I cry because the government went for a loan to build this factory. But, unfortunately, it is not functioning, and this new government has chosen to abandon it. This government has disappointed us,” an angry resident at Komenda, Joseph Eshun, passionately speaks out.
He speaks from a place of pain because he has been unemployed for many years and struggling to eke out a living. What irks him more is the fact that the factory is idle and currently rusting away.
“He ( President Nana Akufo-Addo) promised that he will fix the factory. But he has not fulfilled that promise. So we are disappointed,” he added.
It may sound basic, but Ghana had a dream to start producing sugar locally to reduce the importation of sugar. Hence, the rebirth of the Komenda Sugar factory. The old factory, built in 1964, became defunct about 30 years ago due to technical difficulties and mismanagement. So resuming operations at the factory was a perfect opportunity to do things right this time around. 7,300 jobs were expected to be created when the factory runs fully.
The factory, which can crush 1250 tonnes of sugar cane daily, was expected to put a permanent smile on the faces of the farmers, who would directly feed the factory with raw materials and get paid. On May 30, 2016, the factory restored the hope of unemployed youth who dreamt of finally gaining employment.
Former President John Mahama at the commissioning stated that “the income generated by young people would be phenomenal and be able to change their lives”.
The Site Manager in charge of the New Komenda Sugar Factory, Srinivasa Rao, revealed that after sugar production, the accumulated residue of the sugarcane would be used to generate three megawatts (MW) of electricity.
According to him, two (2) megawatts would be used to power the factory, and the remainder would be added to the national grid for the community and beyond.
"The end product, after the production, would be stored in a 4,000 cubic meter molasses tank to be turned into alcohol, ethanol and industrial spirits to be utilized by hospitals and other companies…the factory has received raw materials for initial crushing and processing into quality sugar," he added.
That dream has faded away after 5 years.
The 36.5-million-dollar loan sugar factory is not producing sugar. It is idle and currently rusting away, with parts of the roof worn out and torn. Unfortunately, the facility shut down in July 2016 after a few
test runs. It was due to reopen for full production in October 2016 but never did.
Promises to revive the factory
Many criticized the NDC government for rushing to commission a factory just for votes and not planning properly.
In September 2018, President Akufo-Addo addressed the people of Komenda and stated that his government would put the factory to use.
“The plan for Komenda Sugar factory was poorly executed. The amount of land we need for the sugar, the type of sugar we can grow here, all those things were not properly organized. We are now reorganizing, and we will bring in strategic investors. It wouldn’t take a lot of time. Very soon, you will hear from me”, he stated.
It took two years for the Trade Ministry to announce Park Agrotech as the new strategic investor. The new strategic investor was expected to hit the ground running and do things right.
Trade Minister Alan Kyerematen, while answering questions in Parliament, stated, “…over the first three years of the agreement, Park Agrotech will invest $28 million in capital expenditure and working capital, including paying an annual concession fee of $3.3 million for 15 years”.
The Minister also stated that the company's technical partners would begin a comprehensive programme of action to bring the factory back to life, stressing: “This will bring prosperity to the people of Komenda and its adjoining communities.”
Mr Kyeremanten explained that it was agreed during the final negotiations that the implementation of the project will be delayed until the finalisation of the National Sugar Policy intended to provide the strategic policy framework for the implementation of the project. Cabinet approved the sugar policy in October 2019. He further promised that Park Agrotech will begin a comprehensive programme of action to bring the factory to life as soon as restrictions on all foreign travels from the COVID-19 pandemic are lifted and all relevant approvals have been secured. That was on June 3, 2020.
Ghana lifted travel restrictions from September 1, 2020, but the Komenda Sugar factory remains idle. The plates and rigs that would carry the sugar cane for crushing have rusted. Park Agrotech would have to spend more money to "re-revive" a new factory that was shut down just months after commissioning.
Almost every painted metallic material now looks brownish and badly corroded. Every surface looks damaged. Even though the factory is just 5 years old, it looks almost 20 years old. Climbing weed plants have covered some of the machines.
A journey up the roof with a drone reveals further deterioration. Parts of the roof were rusted, worn out and torn. The roof is riddled with holes, and with the onset of the rains, it is obvious the rains seep into the factory.
On July 23, 2021, the Member of Parliament for the Komenda-Edina-Egyafo-Abirem Constituency, Samuel Atta-Mills in Parliament, asked the Trade Minister when the factory would be operationalized.
Mr Kyeremanten responded, “we are hoping that we will conclude the fulfilment of conditions by August this year. Once that is done, it paves the way to require the company to commence activation of the company before the end of the year”.
It is past the second week of August, and the Komenda Sugar factory remains closed.
A group calling itself Concerned Youth of Komenda is upset!
Their convener, Samuel Awudzah, is dismayed. The youth had planned a demonstration to draw the government's attention to the deteriorating state of the factory. Still, the Paramount Chief of Komenda died, and so custom demanded that they mourn him.
“It has been 5 years of an idle factory. Is the government saying they could not organize the planting of sugar cane for 5 years? I recall Deputy Trade Minister Ahomka Lindsey said they needed more land for cultivation. Our elders and chiefs readily availed 3,000 acres of land…. so, anyone who talks about sugar cane and land issue it is a non-starter,” he argued.
The land reserved for the cultivation of sugar cane around the factory has been left fallow.
Along the beaches of Komenda are people yearning to be employed once the factory is reopened.
Joseph Eshun is unemployed. His friends who could not stand the unemployment pressures have migrated to Accra, hoping to get non-existent jobs. Sharing his disillusionment and absolute displeasure, he pleaded with the President to fulfil his promises.
“Snakes and rats have now taken over the factory. I realized that new governments always abandon projects started by previous governments. The country is now saddled with debt. I am pained. The President should fix the sugar factor and our road”, he said.
Sugar cane farmers are also disappointed.
Albert Coffie is the Assemblyman for Komenda. He is worried about the state of unemployment in his community. He said some of the youth have now ventured into petty stealing to survive.
“The first term of office, four years, you said you were looking for an investor. Now we are in the second term, and all this while you are still saying that you are looking for a strategic investor. Such promises have been made, and we are not seeing anything”.
The Secretary of the Sugar Cane Farmers Association, Isaac Quarcoo, said his members are now frustrated because they have to give all the harvested sugar cane to Akpeteshie distillers at heavily discounted prices.
This is because the supply of sugar cane is more than the current demand. Akpeteshie distillers are now calling the shots. They have more raw materials than they ever anticipated, so they do not pay the farmer on time.
“Akpeteshie distillers are now overwhelmed with sugar cane, and they do not pay upfront. They buy the canes on credit. So, the farmers are not happy with this arrangement. Because of low prices, some people have even decided to destroy their sugar cane. We are pained. There is no job in Komenda, and this factory would have improved the fortunes of the people.
"Revival of the Komenda sugar factory would not affect them in any way. This is because they can always get molasses from the factory to distil Akpeteshie."
This will mean no crushing of sugar cane, thereby reducing their burden. So even though Akpeteshie distillers are benefiting from the abundant supply of sugar cane, they still want the government to make the factory operational.
Okyeame Assifuah, an Akpeteshie distiller, stated, “we are overwhelmed with the supply of sugar cane, so we buy it cheaply. We buy a full tractor of sugar cane for 500 cedis. Many farmers started planting sugar cane because of the factory. We now have excess sugar cane, so we dictate the price”.
Until the factory becomes functional, it will remain a museum of monumental wastage and failure.
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