THE COCOA FARMER’S TASTELESS “FREE LUNCH”
Cocoa, as we all have persistently repeated is the mainstay of Ghana's economy. It is Ghana's second leading foreign exchange earner next only to gold, worth about 30 percent of all revenue from export, injects about 1.5 billion US Dollars into the economy yearly, serves as a source of income for millions of Ghanaians, and the accolade goes on and on. Money from the sector has gone into the construction of roads, building of health facilities, supporting the educational sector, and other socio economic developmental projects which the entire nation has benefitted from over the years. So, there is no doubt that Ghana owes the cocoa farmer a lot of gratitude which we should not only be ready to express in mere words, but in deed too. It is therefore not out of place for government to put in place various policy interventions to give the cocoa farmer some amount of relief in his efforts at mobilizing resources for his herculean cocoa production task. One of such policies is the free mass cocoa spraying exercise, implemented through the Cocoa Disease and Pests Control (CODAPEC) Program.
Pest and Disease attack on cocoa farms is responsible for an estimated 30 to 40 percent loss of global cocoa production. Though there are several means of controlling cocoa pests and diseases, the chemical control method is considered to be most effective. In 2001, when government felt the need to initiate strategies to boost cocoa production in the country, one of the ideas that came in handy was to introduce the CODAPEC program to reduce pest and disease attack on cocoa farms. Since then, government has on yearly basis apportioned millions of cedis for the running of the program, with the 2012 budget allocating GH¢100.2 million for the 2011/2012 cocoa crop season.
Under the free mass cocoa spraying exercise, COCOBOD recruits persons they call cocoa spraying gangs, train them, provide them with chemicals and equipment like spraying machines and deploy them to cocoa growing areas across the country to spray the farms at no expense to farmers. Admittedly, the program has made a positive impact on the growth of Ghana's cocoa sector over the last 10 years, but the inability of policy makers to re-structure this good intentioned program to correct it's many right-from -birth glitches is making it palpably impossible for the program to satisfy the expectations of the country's cocoa farming communities.
On a visit to Atobiase in the Mpohor Wassa East District of the Western Region, I had the opportunity to interact with some members of the cocoa farmers' society there, who sounded very frustrated about the fact that they are not fully benefitting from the free mass cocoa spraying exercise. They complained that when the cocoa spraying gangs come to town, because of the limited materials they always come along with, the farms of only a few cocoa farmers are sprayed. And even for those few cocoa farmers who benefit from the exercise, they never get their farms sprayed two or three times a year as recommended. Despite the millions of cedis being pumped into the program, several of the farmers still have to invest their own capital into purchase of chemicals and hiring of equipment to spray their farms, making COCOBOD's support beneficial to only a few farmers. And this concern pertains in several other cocoa growing communities across the country.
But the farmers at Atobiase had some brilliant suggestions on how to straighten the unjust system, which I believe is the most well thought through solution to the problem. Some of them suggested that government re-channels the money spent hiring the spraying gangs and buying chemicals and equipment, into the facilitation of the setting up of chemical stores in cocoa growing areas, from where the chemicals and equipment could be bought at highly subsidized prices by all cocoa farmers.
This idea of subsidy is what pertains with the Ministry of Agriculture's fertilizer support program. Instead of distributing fertilizers to farmers free of charge, government rather pays for 50 percent of the cost of fertilizers, for farmers to buy them at half the price. With the funds available for the CODAPEC program, I am sure it may even be possible for COCOBOD to pay up to 90 percent subsidy on the chemicals and equipment for cocoa farmers to bear the minimal 10 percent cost. The idea is as follows; if government thinks it can't provide enough funds and facilities to make all Ghanaian cocoa farmers beneficiaries of the mass cocoa spraying exercise, it should rather implement strategies to re-distribute the 100 percent free spraying support going into the hands of a few lucky and well connected farmers, so every single cocoa farmer can enjoy some of the assistance.
Make no mistake; this is not about taking from some persons what belongs to them and giving to others who have not exercised equal smartness. It is rather about fixing a broken system to create room for every single farmer whose toil and sweat cause free sandwich to fall from government, to equally get a bite of the raw bread at least, even if it would mean abandoning the salad which makes the sandwich extra delicious for a few favoured ones.
The logic is simple, when the cocoa farming community's free lunch does not satisfy all of them, you don't continue feeding the fortunate ones while the rest suffer. The principle of justice and fair play demands that you rather re-distribute the free lunch for everyone to get his or her share of the cake, even if that would mean diluting the 100 percent benefit that the fortunate ones receive.
If you are one of those cocoa farmers who benefit from the free mass spraying exercise on yearly basis, you would surly disagree with this suggestion that those farmers who are not benefitting from the exercise and I are clamouring for, but that is only human so I don't have a problem with that. My headache is actually with the policy makers. I am very certain that this is a suggestion that they have heard from some farmers before, but have chosen to shut their ears to. After all, if they heed to such a suggestion, what message would their political paymasters take to the cocoa farmer when elections are due?
I know that the free mass spraying exercise is bedeviled with several other challenges like some of the sprayers illegally taking money from the cocoa farmers before spraying their farms, chemicals and other inputs being re-directed to private stores for illegal re-sale to farmers, and political interference in the management of the exercise at the local level, which this suggestion would not succeed in eliminating, but at least it would do away with the cruel element of discrimination in the current system, and additionally give the farmers a certain clout to be able to hold the implementers of the mass spraying exercise to account, and demand of them that they reform their bad habits and do their business in the light of day. The Ghanaian cocoa farmer deserves better.
May God bless our gallant cocoa farmers.
Written by: Joseph Opoku Gakpo Student, Faculty of Agriculture – KNUST