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Finding Practical Solutions To The Challenges of The Cocoa Sub-sector   
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Cocoa, an important commercial crop of the equatorial region, is extensively planted in areas bordering the Gulf of Guinea in West Africa.

In Ghana, the cocoa tree was introduced about 90 years ago. Today, Ghana is an important producer of cocoa in the world. It accounts for about 11 percent of the world’s total. However Ivory Coast is at present the top producer.

Ivory Coast together with Ghana produce 38% of world’s cocoa. Brazil sharing 22% of world’s total production is the second largest cocoa producer. The cocoa plantations of Ghana are vast. The Government of Ghana takes a keen interest in providing facilities for the cocoa plantations.

Apart from government, institutions such as the Sustainable Tree Crop Programme, STCP, of the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture, IITA, have been carrying out different activities to boost the work of the cocoa farmer. The STCP has demonstrated its commitment to partner cocoa farmers in addressing various challenges facing the cocoa sub sector in various ways. One of such activities is the Cocoa Sector Support Programme, CSSP, which seeks to contribute to an improved livelihood of smallholder cocoa farmers in Ghana.

The purpose of this community level engagement of farmers with participation from the leadership of the community farmer groups as well as representatives of the Ghana Coffee Shea nut Farmers Association was to improve sustainability of cocoa production in Ghana. This project was supported by institutions such as the national Cocoa Board and the European Union.

The CSSP has been held twice so far and has engendered the organization of a forum for cocoa farmers to discuss issues concerning their work. The first forum organized last year in the Ashanti Region, hosted 48 cocoa farmers representing 15 districts from the Western, Ashanti and the Brong-Ahafo regions as well as representatives of stakeholders

including COCOBOD and the Cocoa Swollen Shoot Virus Disease Control Unit (CSSVDU). The second forum which was held this year (2011) was built on the CSSP, created a platform for cocoa farmers to discuss issues concerning their work and thereby gradually develop the culture of becoming more responsible for the growth of the cocoa subsector and less dependent on state support for the cocoa sector but rather perceive it as complimentary.

The congenial atmosphere at the forum enabled cocoa farmers enumerate concerns and challenges in the cocoa sector and how, in their opinion, the challenges can be addressed. One of such concern is the award of scholarships to children of cocoa farmers. In their opinion the scholarship scheme benefits only a few of their children.

They believe their children should be given priority over others in the cocoa board scholarship scheme. At least 80% of the cocoa scholarships should go to children of farmers. The farmers however acknowledged that it was their responsibility to educate their children to enable them pass with higher scores in examinations to increase their chances of qualifying for scholarship.

The farmers also proposed that they support teachers and make them comfortable in the communities to motivate them to take good care of the children. This real action proposed by the farmers was greeted with a loud applause to signify concent to the suggestion by the larger group The farmers raised issues about securing fertilizers, chemicals for spraying cocoa farms and materials cocoa seedlings among others. According to them these are usually scarce and affects their cocoa farming acitivities .

They said even though these chemicals are not supposed to be sold, they are found in certain shops at cut throat prices. The Farmers proposed that the chemicals be supplied to farmer groups for distribution so that they can have direct supervisory role to over these chemicals and materials to facilitate their work.

The forum provided the platform for the farmers to air their views on the mass spraying exercise. They cautioned against the politicization of the exercise to the country to reap the full benefit of the mass spraying exercise.

They also advised authorities concerned to ensure that fertilizers reach the farmers at the which is around March.. They also appealed that payment for fertilizer use should be spread over a year. This preference was shared at the forum

The forum was also a time to advise each other on some of the best practices. Among them is encouraging their colleague farmers who cocoa farms get affected by s the swollen shoot disease to take the bold step to destroy the cocoa trees and replant

The cocoa farmers also discussed at length, strategies to adopt to ensure that they reaped full benefits from their toil and sweat. Currently they have to suffer shortchanging by middlemen who rather profit from their toils.

The farmers called for the use of electronic weighing scales which they believe cannot be manipulated by the middle men . The electronic scales also enables the farmers to verify the actual weight of the beans to get the actual worth of their produce.

In addtition to this they proposed that a farmer group should be formed to bargain for good prices for cocoa so that farmers are not shortchanged. The farmers also recommended the need to build their skills in marketing strategies Enable them maximize the benefit from their farm produce. These suggestions were well received by the cocoa farmers The farmers discussed the timing for the payment of the Cocoa bonuses.

While the money is useful, to the farmers however these monies are usually paid at the wrong time when farmers have already sold their crops and have some money. One farmer put this succinctly, “This makes us waste money. The bonus will come in handy during the lean season that is from June to August, when we are in dire need of cash.”

This is one suggestion farmers will want the authorities to note. Farmers would also want the cocoa buying season to be moved to the early part of the year because if the beans are not sold out early enough their harvest begins to rot and they make losses. They also want full payment of their bonuses on time and not paid in tranches. In their opinion this should cover light crop and heavy crops seasons.

Some farmers proposed that a pension scheme should be developed for farmers.
The farmers recognized that there is so much they can do to improve their farmers activities. However that does not stop them from undertake simple self help road rehabilitation exercises such as filling potholes or hiring graders to level the roads.

The issue of the dangers farmers are exposed to such as snakebites came up. Unfortunately some farmers die because the National Health Insurance Scheme does not cater for conditions such as snakebites. The farmers believe including snakebite serum on NHIL should be considered and they intend to advocate for that

The discussion was lively and farmers made their points objectively. They were for instance very happy with the institution of a farmer’s day to acknowledge their contribution to the nation’s growth. They proposed that the main event should be organized in districts and rural areas as well. Apart from the problems discussed above, cocoa farmers were also of the view that increasing the number of extension officers will make their work more beneficial to all.

They resolved to form farmer groups to enable them advocate and lobby institutions to get things done in their favour. The farmers were very happy with the STCP/IITA national cocoa farmer’s forum and want it to be sustained in order that the cocoa sub-sector becomes more lucrative and attractive, especially to the youth of Ghana.
Source: B&FT

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