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Pay The Crying Cocoa Farmers Now

Wed, 4 Jan 2006 Source: GNA

By Christian Agubretu, GNA Feature

Accra, Jan. 4, GNA - Our Elders say that one does not deny the destitute clothes if one had promised him or her one. The Ghana COCOBOD should effect immediate payment for all the cocoa bought to stave off the suffering of our cocoa farmers, who have sold their produce and expected immediate payment.

Reports from cocoa producing regions in the country indicate that the farmers are not being treated fairly and it appears the hen that lays the golden egg is being killed.

Often the cries of the farmers were drowned in officialdom. How many cocoa farmers have had the gouts to challenge the action of COCOBOD and government? Sometimes, and often, when the farmers cry for fair treatment for the non-payment for their sales official response has been that there was no cause for alarm and that the problem was being tackled or it was receiving "serious" attention.

But the heart breaking issue is that it sometimes takes too long a time for the cries of the farmers to be heard in official circles and before a remedial action was taken the harm must have been done. Their children's school fees must have been unpaid; the sick could have not gone to hospitals for treatment; urgent and pressing domestic needs would have been left unexecuted. Despondency and hopelessness might have set in. Production suffers.

And one should not soon forget the chit system, the action of secretary receivers and a whole lot of malpractice that had characterised cocoa purchases. To solve that hiccup the Akuafo Cheque System was introduced.

Ghana News Agency reports from the major cocoa growing areas in the country indicate that all is not well with cocoa purchases. It appears the COCOBOD and the Licensed Buying Companies (LBCs) are playing the blame game.

An odyssey of events would help to bring out the picture more clearly. On November 2, 2005 the COCOBOD issued a statement saying that the Ghana Cocoa Board had sufficient funds for the 2005/2006 cocoa main crop purchases.

The statement signed in Accra by Mr Kwame Sarpong, Chief Executive and carried by the GNA said: "Sufficient funds have been released to the Licensed Buying Companies (LBC) for the purchases of the 2005/2006 main crop season which began on October 7, 2005."

However, reports from the Agency's correspondents in the cocoa growing areas showed that the farmers were not being paid. Consequently on November 25, 2005 GNA reported that stakeholders in the cocoa industry have set up a special committee to study critically and recommend solutions to recent issues raised about the industry in the media, including purchases and payment for the produce.

The Committee was expected to present its report and recommendations within a week for the necessary actions to be taken. A statement issued by the Public Relations Unit of the Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning said the agreement was reached during a meeting at the Ministry attended by about 40 stakeholders of the cocoa industry.

The stakeholders included representatives of Ghana Cocoa Board, Licensed Buying Companies, Banks, Cocoa, Coffee and Sheanut Farmers Association and the haulage industry.

The statement said the meeting was to fulfil Government's promise at a press conference to resolve issues in relation to recent media reports on complaints of shortage of jute sacks by Licensed Buying Companies, farmers not being paid bonuses and large stocks of cocoa that were not being purchased.

Professor George Gyan-Baffour, a Deputy Minister of Finance and Economic Planning, who chaired the meeting appealed to all stakeholders to work hard to preserve Ghana's good name on the international market since cocoa was the lifeblood of the economy. Meanwhile, a GNA report from Assin Fosu said Cocoa Farmers in the Assin District of the Central Region had expressed concern about the inability of the banks to honour their Akuafo cheques and spelt out the hardship the farmers were facing.

Opanyin Kwadwo Kankam, a prominent cocoa farmer at Assin Achiase, said he had sold 70 bags of his cocoa to the Produce Buying Company (PBC) but when he presented the cheque to the Assinman Rural Bank at Assin Manso he was told that money for the payment of the produce had not been transferred to the Bnak. Opanyin Kankam said other farmers in the district who went to the Ghana Commercial Bank and the Akoti Rural Bank at Assin Fosu and the Ahenkro Rural Bank at Assin Ahenkro to cash their Akuafo cheques were also disappointed.

He stated that the farmers were going through frustrations and anxieties due to their inability to cash their Akuafo cheques, which could compel them to revert to the old system of taking cash for their produce.

Opanyin Kankam said farmers had accepted the Akuafo cheque system, which was an intervention by the Government to ward off attacks from armed robbers and other associated problems.

Another farmer, Opanyin Armah Boye, told the GNA at Assin Fosu that the problem was serious and appealed to the PBC to endeavour to rectify the situation as early as possible to enable them to cash their cheques since Christmas was just around the corner.

The Management of the PBC last week announced that more than 94 billion cedis had been released to the banks in the Central Region for the purchase of cocoa during the main crop season.

Opanyin Armah Boye expressed shock that the banks were not honouring their cheques and urged the PBC to ensure that farmers did not lose confidence and trust in the Akuafo Cheque system.

The game continued and on December 23, 2005, GNA reported again that the Ghana Cocoa Board (COCOBOD) had asked any cocoa farmer, who was encountering any difficulty with the payment for cocoa sold to any produce clerk to report to the nearest Quality Control Division Office in his or her respective region or district.

The weary farmer was directed to give details of his name, region and district, town or village, name and address of the produce clerk, name of Licensed Buying Company, passbook number, date of purchase and reasons for non-payment or delay if this information is known and the statement was signed by Mr Kwame Sarpong, Chief Executive of COCOBOD, in Accra.

It said the attention of the Management had been drawn to reports of non-payment and delay in the payment of cocoa purchased by some produce clerks.

"COCOBOD is very concerned about this situation and we deem it our responsibility to ensure that farmers are comfortable and get the prescribed payment in exchange for their produce. "We wish to take this opportunity to urge all produce clerks to pay our farmers for their produce and also encourage the banks to facilitate the payments."

Then on December 30, 2005 GNA carried another report from Kaase in the Western Region that more than 2,000 cocoa farmers in Bia District face imminent social and economic hardships following the failure of the Produce Buying Company to pay for cocoa bought from them. The farmers were demanding payment for cocoa purchased three months earlier and blamed the PBC for the delay in the payment and failing to sign the cheques for the monies.

Nana Kwadjo Chebure, Chief of Kaase and himself a cocoa farmer in Bia District of Western Region, appealed to the PBC to expedite action on the payment.

Speaking in an interview with Ghana News Agency, the Chief said the non-payment had brought untold hardships to farmers at Kaase, Ahimakrom and Yawmatwa.

"I have 17 children and they are all schooling. Schools are re-opening next month and I don't have any money on me now. Obviously, I will be in hot waters when school resumes," he said. Nana Kwadjo Chebure expressed the fear that the farmers might stage a demonstration to back their demand if immediate action was not taken to address the problem.

When GNA spoke to the Managing Director of PBC on Wednesday, January 4 2006 on current situation he said PBC had exhausted the money the COCOBOD allocated to it and had even gone for bank overdraft to pay some farmers.

It was revealed that COCOBOD had not supplied sufficient jute bags to bag the dried beans purchased and that the congestion at the Takoradi Harbour had also added to the woes of the farmers. Mr Robert Poku Kyei, Special Advisor to the Minister of Finance and Economic Planning, also told the GNA on Wednesday that the Government had made sufficient funds available to the various LBCs for the 2005/06 Cocoa purchasing season.

He said Ministry of Finance and the Cocoa Marketing Board had put in place measures to pay the affected cocoa farmers. He said the Ministry of Finance was also tasking the various LBCs to pay for every cocoa bean that they have bought from farmers as well as clear all arrears.

However, Kuapa Koko Limited, one of the licensed cocoa buying companies with its headquarters in Kumasi, told the Ghana News Agency that it had paid for every cocoa bean it had bought and owed no cocoa farmer. All that the hungry needs is food. So whoever is concerned should pay the farmers now for the blame game has gone on for far too long. 04 Jan. 06

Columnist: GNA