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Coconut Faces New Threat From Oil   
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The coconut crop is grown extensively in the three districts of the southern part of the Western Region - Jomoro, Ellembelle and Nzema East.

These three districts account for more than 80 per cent of the country’s coconut production.

The crop is reputed for improving digestion and inflammatory conditions associated with digestive and bowel disorders. It supports absorption of other nutrients including vitamins, minerals, and amino acids while also providing beneficial dietary fibre.

Experts also say it helps to boost energy and that the Nzemamanle coconut contains no trans-fats, is gluten-free, non-toxic, hypoallergenic, and also contains antibacterial, antiviral, antifungal, and anti-parasitic healing properties as well as helps to aid and support overall immune system functions Over the years, the only business undertaken by a majority of the people of these three districts was coconut farming. For many years, coconut farming remained the main source of support for families in these districts.

In these coconut-growing areas, the crop is processed into coconut oil and exported mainly to other regions and across the country.

However, a “lethal yellowing disease of coconut” referred to as Cape St. Paul’s Wilt Disease (CSPWD), has devastated the coconut plantations along the southern coast and has brought untold hardship to many of the farmers. Efforts to contain the diseases are ongoing with limited success so far. The sector ministry has observed that the disease has resulted in the dwindling production base of the local coconut industry.

A Coconut Sector Development Project launched in 1999 to improve the cultivation of the crop. It had components such as production of planting materials, replanting, intensification of improved farm management and fertilisation.

There was also improvement in small scale coconut oil processing and applied research; all these were to ensure that life was better for the farmers.

But there is a new threat, and that is the threat posed by infrastructural development along the coast, occassioned by the oil find. Currently, with the opening up of the area, after the commercial discovery of oil and gas, and the massive development of infrastructure for the oil and gas industry, the crop is under threat and may soon face extinction.

Even though the new oil resource was discovered offshore, major works to harness is done onshore. The associated gas processing facility and mini-harbour is located in two of these districts.

Enquiries indicate that many independent power producers are waiting for the completion of the Ghana Gas Project, to head for the area.

Currently, the Volta River Authority (VRA) is clearing a site at Dumeli for the construction of facilities for a new 450 megawatts plant which will later go up to 900 megawatts as the West African Power Pool project is expected to join with another 450 megawatts.

At Atuabo, the multi-million dollar gas plant is almost completed to power the turbines to feed the entire nation.

Most of these coconut farmers, unfortunately, have their farms taken over by the tsunami of sudden development and are being paid just a little for the use of the land.

When the Daily Graphic visited Dumeli, Atuabo and other areas,large tracts of coconut farms have been cleared for development.

In the Jomoro area, investors had bought large tracts of coconut farms for hospitality facilities to support the huge development shifting to the coastal areas of the region.

Several thousands of coconut trees have already been felled and thousands are yet to go and the farmers are left with no means of livelihood. They also do not have the skills to gain any meaningful employment in the industries that have emerged.

“It breaks my heart to see that is happening to the King Crop of Nzemas”, Mr Sam Mark Essien, an Nzema from Kikam said, summarising the feeling of most of the farmers. His fear is that, the massive development along the coast would lead to the extinction of the Nzema coconut.

The Jubilee Field, currently producing thousands of barrels a day, has a life span of a little over 25 years. The coconut farmers have been in this business for centuries .When the oil is finished what will the people do.

The farmers through the interactions with the Daily Graphic said most of them do not own the land.

“Compensations have been paid for the crops, but what happens to us, our source of income has been blocked,” a farmer told the Daily Graphic.

The sad thing is that, since most of the farmers do not own the land, they often times are not aware that their landowners had sold their lands and have to be content with anything as compensation.

“We knew that this day would come but little did we anticipate that it will be sooner than later,” said a farmer who, like many of them, have been taken by surprise.

The oil find may be bringing prosperity, but we need not lay all our eggs in one basket and be mindful of the fact that oil find in other countries have tended to be more of a curse than a blessing.
Source: Daily Graphic

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