From Naabenyin Joojo Amissah, Sefwi Akontombra
The desire of Ghana’s cocoa industry regulator, Ghana Cocoa Board (COCOBOD), to produce about 1,000,000 tonnes of cocoa in the 2018/2019 main crop season is facing an imminent challenge, as several acres of farms are being destroyed by a strange disease.
The destruction, which is rampant in the Northern parts of the Western Region, seems to have no end in sight, as agriculture extension officers are helpless.
Efforts by the Cocoa Research Institute of Ghana and other relevant agencies have all failed to find a common ground to control the raging disease.
All the affected farmers have no idea about what is currently happening to their farms, despite several visits by agric officers to ascertain the cause.
What is immediately known is that the severity of the situation has forced many settler farmers to relocate to their hometowns, abandoning their sick cocoa farms.
A few courageous ones, who have been able to withstand the devastating destruction, have two main options, either to cut down the entire farm and replant, or release the farms to others to replant for them.
Akontombra District severely hit
One notable area where the rampaging disease is mercilessly destroying cocoa farms has been the Sefwi Akontombra District, a prominent cocoa-growing area.
The farmers in the district are currently living in a state of dilemma, distraught, and with severe panic, as they helplessly look on while their cocoa trees keep dying.
This heart-breaking situation, which has affected the life of every single farmer in the area, is gradually moving from a crisis to catastrophe, as there seems to be no remedy for the situation.
Due to its severity, eminent famine is staring at the faces of the disappointed farmers, who now have their hearts in their throats, longing for God’s intervention.
Some of the disillusioned farmers who spoke to The Chronicle stated that they started witnessing the strange calamity on their cocoa farms about seven years ago.
Some of them claimed that for apparently no reason, some of their cocoa trees started dying under mysterious circumstances.
The syndrome, some farmers said, kept creeping into farms with the speed of light, but all attempts by the appropriate authorities to stem the tide yielded no results.
“It all started when some Deathwatch beetles beseeched the farms and began to eat the cocoa trees to our surprise,” said Kwaku Nkuah, a local farmer.
The beetles, he said, were seen drilling holes into the trees, and every tree any beetle visited had to die eventually.
“First the leaves will become brownish and then start falling off like how trees do behave during the harmattan season, but, in this case, the trees will not survive even after season.”
Some of the farmers also suspected the problem to have been caused by the misapplication of fertilisers and weedicides, while others desperately suspected over-aging of their cocoa trees to be the cause. Accounts given by other farmers during interactions concerning the destruction were no different.
A former Member of Parliament for Akontombra, Mr Herold Cobbinah, who is a cocoa farmer, is one of the affected farmers.
Akontombra now and then
It must be mentioned that Sefwi Akontombra and its environs are well noted areas for the growing of cocoa, which is the main leading export commodity of the country.
For decades, the vast arable lands around the town have been fertile for the cultivation of cocoa, a situation that attracted people from all walks of lives.
It also worth-noting that the main occupation of the people of the area has been the large scale cultivation of cocoa. This means that for the past decades, parents in these areas depended solely on their cocoa farms to pay their wards’ school fees and make a decent living.
However, the same great stories cannot be told today, as many worthy cocoa farmers from the area have become impoverished by the strange disease that is destroying their farms.
It is quite surprising to note that cocoa farms that used to provide livelihoods for inhabitants and their families have now become miniature forest reserves.
The most worrying aspect of the ever-worsening situation is that the farmers currently have no other option than to cut down all their cocoa trees, no matter the size and replant the crop.
This means that a farmer who is fifty years old now, and does not have the physical strength to cut down his farm and do replanting, would have to die in extreme poverty and distress.
A visit to some of the farms at Alhajikrom, Atwakwan, Kwadwo Bikrom, Ankra, Tweniase and Mantukwa among others, confirmed the sad story.
Some farmers who could afford to cut down the very cash trees that helped them to survive over the years, have done so and are doing replanting.
According to some older cocoa farmers, some of whom are 80 years old, it was a taboo in the past to use dead cocoa trees as firewood at home.
However, it is devastating to say that the once-revered cocoa trees that used to provide money for farmers in the Sefwi Akontombra District have now become cheap firewood in the town.
Apart from a few residents who use Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG), almost every household uses dead cocoa trees as firewood.
Effects on the economy
The Chronicle’s independent investigations uncovered that the district has lost almost 50% of cocoa beans it used to produce in the past, as a result of the disease. For instance, the Produce Buying Company (PBC), in 2009, bought a total of 52,000 bags of cocoa beans in the district, and purchased a total of 54,000 bags in 2010, but the company’s fortunes kept dwindling when the deadly disease crept into the district.
The PBC, however, struggled to get 20,000 bags of cocoa last year, not because of stiffer opposition from other companies, but poor yields of cocoa.
This is likely to affect the national target of approximately 900,000 tonnes set by the sector regulator, the Ghana COCOBOD.
Assembly Member’s reaction
Mr Robert Kofi Nkrumah, Assembly Member for the Akontombra Electoral Area, expressed great worry over the situation, and called for thorough research to curb the menace.
“I am [a] Purchasing Clerk myself, and I have been in this business for about 20 years now. Over the years, I used to buy over 900 bags every season, but now I have bought 207 bags so far this year,” he said.
According to the farmers, the only instruction from Cocobod and other relevant state institutions has been that they should cut down their cash trees and do replanting. This has been confirmed by Mr Fiifi Boafo, Manager at the office of the Chief Executive Officer of Ghana Cocobod, Mr Joseph Boahen Aidoo.
Speaking to this reporter via a telephone interview, Mr Boafo said: “Research scientists have researched and identified swollen shoot as the disease.”
Cocobod, he said, was encouraging the farmers to cut down all the affected trees and do replanting, while a cross-border rehabilitation programme was being done between Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire.
The programme, Mr Boafo explained, would help the two cocoa producing countries to stem the tide so that the virus would not cross from one country into the other.