RE: Ghana cocoa harvest flings cause AIDS worries (Part 2)

Sat, 22 Oct 2005 Source: Okyere Bonna

Part 1 of this article (http://www.ghanaweb.com/GhanaHomePage/features/artikel.php?ID=91500), sought to address the Reuters? report (http://www.alertnet.org/thenews/newsdesk/L23310317.htm) which intentionally sought to malign the integrity of cocoa farmers as a bunch of idiots who spend their money haphazardly, and worse and contribute to the high incidence of Aids in Ghana.

As noted by Kofi Ellison in a discussion on the Ghana Leadership Union Forum, any fool can look at cities and towns such as Kumasi, Bekwai, Mampong, Tepa, Brekum, Takyiman, Domaa Ahenkro, Yamfo, Konongo, Dua Yaw Nkwanta, Bechem, etc. to find out how well our cocoa farmers have used their money to develop towns and cities across much of Ghana. The success of a good number of second generation educated Ghanaians can be traced to the support provided by parents who were cocoa farmers. This article attempts to identify the real challenges our cocoa farmers face and suggest ways and means to redeem them from the doldrums they face in Ghana.


Almost all Ghana?s cocoa is produced in the south, mostly in the Akan areas. As explained by Mr. Cameron Duodu, in a discussion on the Ghana Leadership Forum, in the cocoa-producing areas, a cocoa farmer is the one who owns the cocoa farm. He gets labor from his immediate and extended family; and sometimes, through the ''nnoboa" system whereby friends and acquaintances help each other tend their cocoa farms on a co-operative basis. The ?nnoboa? systems works like this: you help me fix my farm today; I?ll come to help do yours tomorrow. Cocoa farmers may also hire laborers when they can afford it, usually strangers who live in the surrounding towns or villages, and pay them on a per-day basis. Additionally, there are those who engage in the ''abusa'' system. In this system, more or less independent farm contractors may offer to do all the farm work for the owner, and share the proceeds from the harvest with him, on the basis of two-thirds for the owner and one-third for the contractor.

Some Ghanaian commentators would like to draw distinction between the owners of the cocoa farms and the workers on the cocoa farms and regard the workers as non-cocoa farmers but as casual laborers who can, and do, divert their labor to any enterprise that needs their services for a fee. Hence the disagreement with me in referring to cocoa farmers as poor and less literate in my previous article in which I do not make that distinction. No doubt it could be argued that to lump all of the cocoa farmers together and dismiss them as 'poor' helpless creatures would be wrong; especially if the tone in which that statement is made was taken as more contempt than sympathy for them. All this notwithstanding, the fact still remains that people who live and work on cocoa farms do live under great social and economic hardship.

As it is impossible to pre-determine what meaning others may read into one?s choice of words in an article, this author would like to state at the outset that this article seeks to address the plight of the other category of farm workers that, by definition, some do not regard as cocoa farmers as well. First, this writer would like to dispute the notion that this latter group of farmers cannot be considered as authentic cocoa farmers since they do not own cocoa farms. My question is: ?if they cannot be considered as cocoa farmers then what are they- cocoa workers?? I will like to affirm that they are as much cocoa farmers as the owners of the farms. The distinction some are attempting to make may be technically correct but it is of little practical help. The condition of all the people who work on our cocoa farms is very similar and needs to be addressed urgently.

It is believed that the main culprit for the abject poverty of the Ghana cocoa farmers is the government of Ghana. The government has refused to pay Ghanaian farmers a fair price for a load of cocoa (60 pound weight), in relation to what Ghana is paid on the international market. This assertion is by no means meant to belittle the efforts made by the government to help our farmers. However, it bears saying that the help already given is inadequate considering the role our farmers play in the economy of Ghana.

Since the establishment of the Cocoa Marketing Board (CMB) in 1947, it has done very little for the welfare of the farmers in this country. While farmers are suffering, top officials of the Cocoa Marketing Board give huge sums of money to themselves to put up houses for their personal use which the same officials turn around and rent to the Board at fantastic rates. (The Punch, August 28 Sept 3, 1981; p.1) .Could it be that the government decided on purpose to site the head office of the Cocoa Marketing Board, in Accra, the capital, as far away from the cocoa farms as possible to deny real cocoa farmers any possibility of enjoying what benefits accrue from the CMB?

It ironic that CMB scholarships are hardly given to the children of cocoa farmers. It would be natural for CMB scholarships to go to the children of cocoa farmers so that children of these farmers can complete their studies while the farmers use the extra income to improve and expand their operations. Farmers are forced sometimes to use their school-going children on their farms because of they lack the funds to hire farm hands.

Consider the Research conducted by the Ghana Health Service which suggests that while many children in cocoa communities attend school, like children in traditional agricultural communities around the world, some children have to assist parents on their cocoa farms outside of school hours and may even miss school during the peak harvest season because they must help their parents on their cocoa farms. Other children work on cocoa farms as laborers while attending school to supplement the incomes of their parents.

In September 2000, BBC released a documentary entitled "Slavery: A Global Investigation" which featured a segment on boys enslaved on cocoa farms in the Ivory Coast. Among other things, it showed children with heavily scarred backs resulting from beatings with whips and switches they received from the operators of the farms. So Ghana may not be an exception when it comes to child labor but wherever this phenomenon surfaces, it must be dealt with decisively as it robs children of their childhood and educational opportunities.

A survey of conditions on cocoa farms in four countries in West Africa including Ghana,(http://www.antislavery.org/homepage/campaign/cocoabackground.htm#protocol#protocol), completed by the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture for the U.S. Agency for International Development in July 2002, estimated that nearly 300,000 children work in dangerous conditions on cocoa farms. The report stated that of the 300,000 children, more than half (64 percent) are under 14 years old. Twelve thousand had no connection to the family on whose cocoa farm they toiled, but only 5,100 of them were paid for their work. Almost 6,000 were described as "unpaid workers with no family ties," provoking advocates referring to them as "slaves." The rest work on their families' farms, kept home from school to do punishing work during the all-important harvest seasons. Often these farmers have no other alternative other than relying on their teen age children mostly boys for cheap labor on their farms.

The World Cocoa Foundation?s Initiative for African Cocoa Communities (IACC), a program administered by UNICEF to enable children to stay in school while continuing to contribute to the economic success of their families must not be interfered with by politics. The initiative which is ostensibly set up to identify and support new approaches to improving conditions in West African cocoa farming communities while strengthening and incorporating current, industry-supported programs must remain on course. Every provision should be made to ensure that financial commitments such as the NCA?s committed funding for the first two years of the program does reaches the 2,600 children in the four identified cocoa-growing West African countries including Ghana.

Most of the cocoa from Ghana comes from small farms of 12 acres or less and the people who work on them live in abject poor conditions. Poverty among our farmers would reduce when Ghana encourages mechanized farming. 90 percent of the world?s cocoa comes from farms of 12 acres or less. Rather than the government of Ghana giving our farmers constructive help to make a leap into mechanized farming our government is thinking of allocating 100 acres of farm lands and tractors to MPs. This writer considers that suggestion an affront to our cocoa farmers. Anytime farmers agitate for a fair increase in the price of a load of cocoa, politicians from non-cocoa growing areas, and others who have never carried a bean of cocoa, manage to impute tribal political agenda to the just demands of these farmers. It is time to give farmers a fair price.


Roads leading to most of these cocoa farms are virtually in-motorable. The cocoa farmers or workers usually have to carry the heavy cocoa bags on their backs to places where they can get access to transportation to the purchasing depot. In the same vein when a farmer is ill or needs medicine or essential commodities he or she has to travel several miles by foot to a nearby town for his or her needs. It is about time Ghana provided our rural areas and the farmers who live there some infrastructure to help alleviate the acute poverty among them. Ghana government in conjunction with the international coporations who are feeding fat on our poor farmers MUST do something about the plight of our poverty stricken farmers as they are the beneficiaries from the slavery of our cocoa farmers.

The constitution of the Republic of Ghana must then be amended if need be to make the lives of our farmers better by focusing on decentralization and speeding up the re-building of the rural infrastructure. The urban-bias in Ghana's development plans must be reversed. Rural Ghana has been neglected for far too long leaving our farmers in a very pitiful and destitute state. Ghana is not only Accra-Tema and Kumasi. For instance, about 70% of Ghana's oil import is consumed in Accra-Tema. Over 80% of telephone lines and mobile phones are in Accra-Tema. There are more doctors and nurses in Accra-Tema than the rest of the country. This urban-bias must be reversed. Our cocoa farmers must be involved in the day to day running of their towns and villages by allowing them to choose their own leaders/representatives. Regional and the District Ministers must not be appointed by the President from his seat in Accra. The people must appoint their own officers on democratic principles. The Regional Ministers, being independent, could group together and demand a transparent, accountable and fair share of the national wealth, based on population and development needs of each region

Despite the world's love affair with chocolate, international cocoa prices have actually declined over the last decade. Ghana's cocoa farmers have traditionally been taxed heavily by a government with few other sources of revenue. As Ghana relies heavily on cash crops including cocoa and over 50% of Ghanaians are farmers, Ghana can help her citizens out of poverty by re-ordering our priorities from building palaces to expanding and modernizing the Tema Chocolate Factory to utilize our under-priced cocoa beans. Ghana government must start planning for a means to take care of the increased cocoa production for which there may be no ready markets. At least our government should take steps to guarantee a minimum price for cocoa even if the price on world market plummets. We must do something to stop the exploitation of our marginalized poor cocoa farmers and not disrespect them before the international community. What Cadbury won't do is pay the Fair Trade premium price to West African cocoa farmers. It is therefore incumbent upon our Governments to strengthen, improve and expand chocolate manufacturing and other related finished cocoa products.

In his readings this author came across this statement in one of the international websites which reads, ?The farmers in Ghana own one-third of the Day Chocolate Company. They belong to a farmers' co-operative called Kuapa Kokoo, which means Good Cocoa Farmer in Twi (a language spoken in Ghana).? Is this true and yet our cocoa farmers can hardly afford their kids school fees? Enquiring minds want to know.


To maintain its Fair Trade status, Kuapa has to make sure farmers have a real say in the running of the co-operative and that Kuapa Kokoo's 30,000 members are kept informed and are treated fairly. Kuapa Kokoo badly needs to see to it that the Fair Trade market expands so that it can secure extra premiums for the cocoa farmers. Currently, it can only find Fair Trade buyers for 3 percent of the cocoa its members produce. The rest is sold at a much lower price to the mainstream market, ending up in brand name chocolate bars for companies like Cadbury. They must continue mounting the pressure on M&M/Mars and all Cocoa Buying Agencies until they commit to buying at least 20 percent of its cocoa beans directly from the indigenous cocoa farmers.

2. Kuapa Kokoo needs to appeal to Bill Guyton, president of the World Cocoa Foundation (WCF) to do something about the exploitation and the plight of the cocoa farmer. Help must be provided to alleviate the abject poverty. The farmers deserve a better life for their toils.

3. The media in Ghana must help to expose the genuinely poor living conditions of cocoa farmers and their children. Programs like the 2001 documentary by the BBC and a prize-winning series by Knight Ridder reporters that helped to expose the horrific details of the farm children's lives, and their connection to the chocolate consuming countries must be encouraged and repeated often. Cadbury-Schweppes - one of the world's largest chocolate manufacturers that have exploited the Ghana market since 1903 must be brought under more pressure to either increase prices or pay a premium towards the provision of infrastructure in the cocoa growing villages. Good drinking water would not be too much to ask from Cadbury for the cocoa growing villages.

5. ECOBANK and Social Security Bank which are new participant banks in the loan syndication business, as well as Barclays Bank which has benefited from the cocoa farmers for the past 80 years must give low interest loans to cocoa farmers.

According to government report an amount of US$650M Receivables-Backed Pre-Export Finance Term Loan was secured by the Ghana Cocoa Board to purchase cocoa for the 2003/2004 cocoa season. It is hoped that this year?s amount will be even larger as the participant new banks in the loan syndication process have praised Ghana Cocoa Board for promptly honoring their loan obligations over the years. Mr. Christopher Keljik, Group Executive Director, Standard Chartered Bank has already described the loan as the largest and most successful non-oil related transaction in sub-Saharan Africa. He said through the loan, the Cocoa Board has achieved over subscription of more than 45%, attracting new banks and commitments well in excess of the US?500m originally sought.

Ghana must honor her obligation towards our farmers who have since time immemorial worked so hard to sustain her economies. It bears saying that without minimum pricing to ensure a steady income, cocoa farmers are not likely to make major changes in labor practices as their incomes are not commensurate to their economic and social needs.

6. What is a Fair Market Price for Farmers?

According to Kwaku Danso, president of GLU in a private communication towards reaching a fair market price for cocoa farmers, a study must be conducted by an independent body to determine the minimum payment, and hence price to an average farmers to allow them to take care of their lives and raise their children on a full time farming basis. This should be irrespective of any government minimum wage paid to government employees in other fields. Such numbers should be used by Economists to determine a new price for a ton of cocoa from the cocoa farmer. In other words, if an average typical farmer works for a whole year and can produce 5 tons of cocoa and needs $10,000 per year to live decently to support his average sized Ghanaian family [that is the job or Economists and Statisticians to know this]; that cocoa should be purchased at $2,000 per ton to give them the minimum livelihood, even if the government is not selling the ton below the $2,000 at certain times. This is the logic that the US government uses to subsidize their farmers to continue in business producing such products as corn and cotton that would otherwise not attract any new breed of farmers. Ideally farmers should be able to sell their products on an open market. However, for now, since prices are controlled by the government, similar planning and calculations can be done to help make cocoa farming productive and profitable, and not merely an endeavor for illiterate people looked down upon by government and by outsiders also.

For any information, please address them to:
Okyere Bonna, Secretary, Ghana Leadership Union.
Email: obonna@email.uophx.edu In Ghana: Contact: Anthony Owusu, 0244-057-566 Email: kowusu@cybercafemakers.com, Or Kwaku A. Danso, President: k.danso@comcast.net

Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.

Columnist: Okyere Bonna