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21.10.2002 General News

Cocaine Smugglers Threaten Yam Export Business

By Chronicle
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COCAINE EXPORTERS who smuggle the illicit drug among boxes of yam, virtually abandon the thousands of tons of yam when they arrive in London in the United Kingdom, content with the huge sums of money they make from selling the stuff.

This is threatening the yam export business, one of the major items on Ghana's non-traditional exports list and worried dealers say government must act now. Should the yam export trade collapse, the producers, largely peasants in the north and the Afram Plains, will be impoverished under slumping producer price, it was further learnt.

A research Chronicle conducted, following a tip-off, indicated that the popular "pona" yams cost more at the main yam market in Accra, the Konkomba Market, than it does in London. A hundred (100) tubers of that yam species cost ¢600,000 at Konkomba. That means 10 of the tubers cost approximately £5.00 while a single tuber costs 50 pence there.

Various costs of adding value and handling push the cost of yams being exported to London up. Clearing, wrapping and packaging into cartons, binding, weighing, loading, transportation to the port and off-loading are among 10 processes that increase the cost of every carton of the tubers by £1.00. And the empty carton costs £1.15.

A yam exporter pays about £2.00 as the freight cost (FOB) of one carton of yam which contains 10 tubers from Tema to London. These add to make the value of one carton of yams £8.00 and, assuming the exporter adds a margin 25 per cent on it, the value of the carton should be at least £12.00.

The price of one carton of 10 tubers of "pona" today on the market of London is £5.00, £1.00 less than what it is really worth.

The confounding reality is that far from discouraging the yam exporters from shipping more yams to the UK and other European markets, the glut actually seems to be encouraging some of them to send more yams.

Chronicle learnt that those mindless of the colossal losses incurred are those who excavate hollows in the tubers and push rolls of cocaine inside.

It was learnt that among the about 1,000 cartons of yam that each of such criminal exporters posts, only two to four of the boxes may be containing the powdered substance. But if they are able to pull those few boxes out and land them successfully in the hands of their drug clients in London, the worth of the cocaine far exceeds the value of the rest of the yam.

"In some cases, they literally abandon the whole pack of yams to rot in the markets, content with their drug booty," one frustrated yam dealer added.

Chronicle search for the root cause of the problem established that for some time now the export of some non-traditional crops, particularly yams, has been too closely co-ordinated and monitored.

Anybody at all can jump into the trade, virtually uninhibited and whether they really export yams or something else no one checks seriously," was another exporter's lamentation.

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