Sometime in the 1980s, the Provisional National Defence Council (PNDC) government introduced the Akuafo Cheque system to address delays in the payment of moneys to cocoa farmers and also to prevent purchasing clerks from diverting funds intended for farmers.
Before then, many cocoa farmers were owed millions of cedis in purchases of their cocoa beans, largely not because the government was unable to effect the payments but because some unscrupulous officials of the only cocoa-buying company of the time, the Produce Buying Company, had diverted the funds for their personal comfort.
This situation had affected the morale of the farmers to such an extent that Ghana, which used to be the leading producer of cocoa in the world, had lost that enviable position to Cote d’Iviore and Brazil.
The introduction of that payment system for cocoa farmers helped to rejuvenate the cocoa industry as many more people were motivated to return to the production of the life blood of the economy.
The reasons for the success of this system could not be far-fetched as the regime then would not broach any ‘nonsense’ on the part of people who were widely regarded as economic saboteurs bent on making life uncomfortable for the ordinary person.
However, the system has suffered some setback as a result of the failure of those in charge of it to police the initiative.
The DAILY GRAPHIC believes that some managers of the system took advantage of the loopholes to thwart the efforts of the government to motivate cocoa farmers to continue to cultivate cocoa.
Perhaps, the liberalisation of the purchasing of cocoa might have been responsible for the present challenges that the cocoa farmers are complaining about.
At a stakeholders meeting on cocoa payment system sponsored by the Business Advocacy Sector Advocacy Challenge (BUSAC) Fund, the Ghana Cocoa, Coffee and Sheanut Farmers Association, called on the government to introduce the Akuafo Cheque payment system and make it mandatory for all licensed buying companies (LBCs) to use.
The move, according to the farmers, was to enable them to derive maximum benefit from their toil as the present arrangement enriches the pockets of the buying agents while they are made poorer.
The DAILY GRAPHIC thinks that the farmers have a point because delays in the payment of their produce will only undermine their resolve to produce more to earn foreign exchange for the country and also defeat the government’s determination to become the world leading exporter of the produce once again.
If the present system is not changed, and we return to the days when farmers were not paid for a whole crop season, then the farmers will be demotivated from venturing into the industry. Besides, the youth cannot be motivated into a venture that cannot guarantee them any return on their own sweat.
The payment through the banking system does not only prevent the buying agents and purchasing clerks from feeding on the sweat of farmers, but it also helps to cultivate the habit of savings among the cocoa farmers.
Many innovations in the banking sector will even make the payment of cocoa farmers through the bank more effective, as the farmers can also take advantage of the banking products such as mobile money, e-zwich, swift and express transfers to forestall situations where moneys are kept under the beds of some farmers and become a ‘prey’ for armed robbers.
The cocoa industry is too dear to the future of this country to be left in the hands of a few selfish individuals who want to gain at the expense of the larger interest.
We are being told that the cheque system has not stopped completely and that cash payments are made alongside the cheque system. But it appears the major stakeholders are not comfortable with the present arrangement as articulated by the National Chief Farmer, Alhaji Alhassan Bukari, at the stakeholders meeting.
The DAILY GRAPHIC calls on the government to act swiftly to resolve the concerns of the farmers so that the present challenge in the system does not clog efforts to increase the yield of cocoa that Ghana puts on the market every year.
Currently, we are number two in terms of world cocoa output but the government said last year that the agenda is to make Ghana number one in the not-too-distant future. Nobody should be allowed to stand in the way of the farmers and the people as a whole in their efforts to improve the country’s foreign earnings.