A directive issued by Dr Stephen Kwabena Opuni, during his time as Chief Executive of the Ghana Cocoa Board (COCOBOD) forced otherwise competent scientists at the Cocoa Research Institute of Ghana (CRIG) to take shortcuts and use unscientific means to fast track the approval of agrochemicals.
For the reason he gave as a cost-cutting measure, Dr Opuni directed CRIG scientist not to subject all new agrochemicals to the full rigour of proper scientific testing, if the agrochemical is supposedly similar to one already on the market.
The implication was that such agrochemicals would not be tested in the field on cocoa plants at different stages of development over a period of months, which had been the norm in the history of COCOBOD, to establish plants’ responses to every particular agrochemical product. Instead, the chemical ingredients of such agrochemicals were compared to those on the market and approved if similar.
In the case of Lithovit Folia fertilizer, the agrochemical was recommended for use without going through plant testing because it was similar to NuriSmart and Vegimax, with Wet Pro.
Dr Yaw Adu-Ampomah, a former Deputy Chief Executive in charge of Agronomy and Quality Control at COCOBOD, called the directive from Dr Opuni and the resultant practices of substituting proper plant testing with the act of compering new agrochemicals to old ones, as being “absolutely unscientific”.
He said this while under cross-examination by Mr Samuel Cudjoe, the lawyer for Dr Stephen Opuni at the Accra High court on Wednesday, 27th November 2019.
He indicated that, in the particular case of Lithovit Folia fertilizer the situation was made worse by the fact that the agrichemicals, NuriSmart and Vegimax, to which the new product was compared were not themselves Lithovit products. Also, the testing done on those two products were done by other scientists four years prior.
The change from a robust plant testing system to a flawed process is thought to have been exploited to approve the particular brand of Lithovit Folia fertilizer supplied by Agricult Ghana Limited for use without proper testing.
The efficacy and nature of the fertilizer supplied by Agricult Ghana Limited have since come under question; forming the bases of the present lawsuit against Dr Stephen Opuni and Mr Seidu Agongo, the owner of Agricult Ghana Limited.
The two men are accused of defrauding by false pretences, money laundering, corruption by a public officer, acting in contravention of the Public Procurement Act and causing financial loss to the state, to the tune of GH¢271.3m.
Dr Yaw Adu-Ampomah said when Mr A.A. Afrifa, who was the then-Head of the Soil Science Division at CRIG and the person who signed the report recommending the use of Lithovit Folia fertilizer came before the investigative committee which he, Dr Adu-Ampomah, chaired, Mr Afrifa admitted to erring in making that recommendation. He said he did not realise the mistake at that time.