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General News Mon, 19 Nov 2001

Cashpro hopes to resume cocoa purchases soon

KUMASI, Ghana, Nov 19 (Reuters) - Ghana's second biggest cocoa buyer Cashpro hopes soon to resolve the debt problems which have hindered purchasing so far this season in the West African country, a company official said.

``Talks have been going on and the banks' responses are very positive,'' the official at Cashpro's head office in Accra said.

``I can't give a definite date for when we will start buying, but I can assure you it will not be long,'' the official told Reuters late last week.

Private buyer Cashpro left banks facing a 37 billion cedis ($5.2 million) loan shortfall last season and has been unable to take part in buying this year.

Some banks have now refused to extend seed money to other private buyers in the world's second biggest cocoa producer.

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Cashpro was granted 93 billion cedis in seed money last year but failed to deliver cocoa to cover nearly 37 billion -- the equivalent of 9,300 tonnes of beans or 2.5 percent of Ghana's crop.

Cashpro said the missing money was used to allow farmers who had been selling to the company to buy fertilisers. However it said the farmers had treated the funds as a gift rather than a loan, and refused to repay the money even though yields jumped.

KEY BANKS MISSING

Some farmers said Cashpro, which bought 10.7 percent of Ghana's crop last year, had a very good network in many parts of the key western region and its absence was affecting marketing.

``Because it is not buying, supplies from those areas are very slow,'' one farmer said. ``There are even farmers who have not sold their beans because they are still looking to Cashpro.''

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Eight banks guaranteed the Cashpro loans and some of the key loan providers -- Social Security Bank (SSB) and Barclays Bank -- have withdrawn completely from the 2001/02 purchasing season.

A senior SSB banker said that was causing problems for some farmers. ``We are in some of the remotest villages. Now farmers who are paid cheques will have to travel long distances to cash them,'' he told Reuters.

The other banks to bear the brunt of the Cashpro problem were Ghana Commercial Bank , Ecobank, National Investment Bank, Agricultural Development Bank, The Trust Bank, Merchant Bank and some are now reluctant lenders.

``Even banks providing guarantees are not giving enough, so there is a big shortfall,'' said a buyer at Kuapa Kokoo.

GOVERNMENT SAYS BUYING NOT AFFECTED

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However the government and cocoa regulator Cocobod both downplayed the importance of the Cashpro problem.

Finance Minister Yaw Osafo-Maafo said last week its absence had not hit cocoa purchases because other buyers -- such as the Produce Buying Company , which purchases more than a third of the crop -- had increased their market share.

He said Cocobod had released 377 billion cedis by November 6 and seed money to cover 40 to 45 percent of projected cocoa purchases would have been released by the end of the month.

A senior Cocobod official also said he was confident SSB and other banks which were not lending money would start soon.

``I think they will come, because it is a very, very lucrative business,'' the official told Reuters. ``I know the banks very well and I know they won't let this money go by.''

He said the cash problems plaguing buyers would not affect supplies. Many farmers had little choice but to deliver the cocoa whether they were paid immediately or not.

``It is the farmers who are suffering, not the buyers. Farmers are not getting paid as they should,'' he said.

$ equals 7,100 cedis

Source: Reuters