Some cocoa farmers in the Eastern region are complaining about what they say is neglect by government despite their substantial contribution to the Ghanaian economy.
The farmers from Asikasu Odumase in the Upper West Akim District say government has looked on and allowed for the destruction of their farms by private firms to make way for rubber plantations, leaving them struggling.
“The destruction at Asikasu has been ongoing for more than 3 years now but no one cares. We have complained and complained but nothing is being done about it. Government is treating us as if we don’t matter,” Secretary of the Asikasu Odumase Cocoa Life Farmers Association, Eric Nordzoh said.
He was speaking at the 3rd Cocoa Dialogue Series organized by the Ghana Agricultural and Rural Development Journalists Association (GARDJA) at Bunso in the Eastern region.
The dialogue brought together players in the Agric sector to deliberate on how to ensure the sustainability of the cocoa industry. Representatives of cocoa farmer-based organisations, Ministry of Food and Agriculture, Forestry Commission and other stakeholders participate in the dialogue.
Chairman of the Concerned Farmers Association Nana Oboadie said cocoa production in the Eastern region is under threat from the rubber industry as a result of the ongoing destruction.
He claims the private persons have bought cocoa lands belonging to small scale farmers from chiefs, and have since moved in to destroy more than 2000 acres of cocoa farms in the enclave.
He wants government to intervene and stop what he says are plans to destroy more farms. He wants already taken lands returned claiming the development has destroyed the livelihoods of farmers.
“More than 50 people have lost their lives as a result of the destruction of cocoa trees in these areas. Cocoa has brought a lot of development to the Eastern region including cocoa roads but now it is not respected. We want our lands back,” he said.
Last year, a Joy News documentary, Plastic Chocolate highlighted how farming communities are struggling as a result of the destruction of cocoa trees to make way for rubber plantations.
The Ghana Rubber Estate Limited denied any wrongdoing and insisted adequate compensation was being paid to farmers who have had their farms taken over.
But the farmers are not satisfied. Nana Oboadie served to notice the farmers will organise a demonstration soon over the continuous destruction. “We are giving the President a three-day ultimatum. If he doesn’t ensure we get our lands back, we will demonstrate. Sadly COCOBOD says they have not seen this. COCOBOD is not serving the interest of ordinary cocoa farmers,” he said.
“Ghana is for all of us. We will not sit down and allow anyone to destroy the cocoa industry. They do not have the ordinary cocoa farmers at heart. It is sad that cocoa which government has given the farmers seedlings to plant and help expand on the production are being destroyed and no one cares. Why would government act like this?” he quizzed.
President of the Ghana Agricultural and Rural Development Journalists Association (GARDJA) Richmond Frimpong who spoke at the dialogue called for legislation to criminalize the destruction of cocoa trees.
“GARDJA has presented a petition to parliament and the president for a law to stop the destruction of cocoa trees and we hope it will be considered so that farmers can be protected,” he said.
Cocoa and Climate change
Josephus Bannor, Deputy Director at the Ministry of Food and Agriculture office in Atiwa East called for a concerted effort to tackle the impact of climate change on Agric production.
“Climate change is real and the earlier we acknowledge and deal with it, the better. Previously, we used to have a lot of trees on our cocoa farms. That is not the case anymore. It is about time we returned to those times because that is how we can get adequate rains on the fields,” he said.
Dr. Francis Emmanuel Awortwi who is Head of the Environmental Studies Department at the University of Agriculture and Environmental Studies at Bunso said cocoa farmers play an important role in the Ghanaian economy and urged all to work to help sustain the industry.
“Cocoa is still the backbone of the country. So whether you are a cocoa farmer or not, we all need to take the necessary steps to make the industry better off,” he said.
Humphrey Ayisi of the World Cocoa Farmers Organisation told the forum the challenges of cocoa farmers have been ignored for far too long and it is about time that changed.
He called on cocoa farmers to unite so they can be able to help influence policies in the cocoa industry and ensure farmers get good prices.
“Look at the cars that are parked at COCOBOD. And the lavish expenditure. All of that is earned through the sweat of ordinary cocoa farmers but the farmers are poor,” he said.
The 3rd edition of the cocoa dialogue series saw representatives of 15 different farmer-based organisations and other players in the Agric sector participating. GARDJA last year organised similar dialogues in the Western and Greater Accra regions.