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January 03, 2008

Ghana optimistic about cocoa sector's prospects

After almost a decade of poor cocoa production during the 1980s, the Ghanaian government is upbeat about the subsequent growth in output of the country’s main export, providing more than 60% of foreign earnings.

Swollen-shoot disease remains a headache, though. The virus, which is transmitted by mealie-bug vectors and eventually destroys cocoa trees, has led to the loss of more than seven million trees in the eastern region of Ghana, with another 360 000 affected, according to Antwi Agyei, deputy regional manager of the swollen-shoot virus-control unit of the state regulator, the Ghana Cocoa Board (Cocobod).

This is especially worrying as the government has signed a barter agreement with China. The Chinese will build a new hydroelectric dam at Bui in the Brong Ahafo region in exchange for cocoa beans.

However, Cocobod executives remain optimistic about increased output. Their positive outlook is based on the cultivation of a new variety of cocoa that takes less time to mature. It was introduced by the Cocoa Research Institute of Ghana (CRIG) under its former director Roy Appiah.

Cocoa takes about six to seven years to mature, but the CRIG variety takes between 18 and 24 months.

According to the Cocobod, production has improved steadily from 389 000 tonnes in 2000/01 to a high of 740 457 tonnes during the 2005/06 crop year.

Deputy Minister of Finance and Economic Planning George Gyan-Baffour confirmed that "cocoa output has doubled since the 2000/01 crop season." He attributed this to effective policies aimed at helping farmers improve their farming methods.

In 2007, for example, Gyan-Baffour said the government has been able to raise $900-million dollars from a consortium of foreign banks to support the purchase of cocoa from farmers. "This is to avoid the delayed payment that the farmers have suffered in the past," he added.

In addition, the government has started tarring selected roads in remote cocoa-growing areas, while solar energy systems are to be provided to some villages. "This is aimed at increasing the efficiency of transporting cocoa and to improve the living standards of our farmers," Gyan-Baffour said.

An amount of $50-million was allocated for the tarring of approximately 513km of roads. Another $150-million has been secured by Cocobod, of which part will be used to expand new warehousing facilities at the ports of Tema near Accra and Takoradi in the western region.

In order to satisfy its customers, Cocobod has also intensified its education programme for farmers to prevent the use of harmful fertilisers and anti-disease chemicals. In this regard, Cocobod’s chief executive, Issac Osei, has announced a ban on several chemicals.

Given all these efforts, one would expect the country to be enjoying the full benefit of cocoa production. However, cocoa is still being exported in its raw form. Consequently, the government has decided to encourage the processing of the cocoa locally to add more value. This is expected to generate more jobs.

Osei says there are attempts to increase the local processing capacity to 350 000 tonnes by the end of next year. The Cocoa Processing Company, the largest chocolate manufacturer in the country, is gearing up to expand its capacity from 30 000 tonnes to 65 000 tonnes.

United States cocoa processor Cargill has already started construction of a plant to start work in the country.

Some local processors have also joined the fray to produce cocoa powder that the CRIG says has some curative qualities. In addition, the government is also planning to implement a "cup of cocoa drink a day" for every school child in an attempt to make more Ghanaians taste what the farmers have been producing all these years.

Dwemoh is one of the farmers who are delighted at the thought that the cocoa drink will become more available inside the country because, "for many years, I just produced cocoa and did not see [how] it ends up. Now I will see with my own eyes what my little seedlings that I have tended [become]."

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