The Minister of Agriculture, Dr Owusu Afriyie-Akoto, has said the government will compensate cocoa farmers whose trees will be cut down as a result of the swollen shoot disease.
The minister said the grants would serve as motivation for the farmers to replace their diseased trees.
It will also help ensure that the impact of the swollen shoot disease on cocoa production, the crop farmers and the cocoa industry in general is minimised, Dr Akoto told the Graphic Business in an interview.
Given that the swollen shoot disease is spreading very fast in the country, Dr. Akoto said everything showed that the disease had “a tendency of wiping out all the cocoa trees in a region” hence the need to find innovative ways of arresting its spread before it wrecked more havoc.
Currently, about 17 per cent of the country’s cocoa tree stock is affected by the disease, making it difficult for diseased trees to produce at their optimum levels.
Until systematic abuses led to its replacement some two years ago, the policy of compensating farmers whose trees were affected by swollen shoot disease helped to motivate cocoa farmers to replace the affected plants.
The Ghana Cocoa Board (COCOBOD), which was administering the policy however, replaced it with the free seedlings distribution policy that took off in the two cocoa seasons.
Within the period, the government has distributed some 110 million disease resistant and hybrid seedlings to farmers for replanting.
While explaining that farmers needed to be compensated for cutting down of their trees, the Minister of Food and Agriculture said the government would also increase the number of people who would go out to cut down the trees.
That, he said was to ensure that all the affected trees were cut down quickly and new seedlings that would yield within two to three years planted.
“Most of the time, these farmers refuse to have their trees cut down but the virus also spreads very fast, so the grants will be used to entice them,” he said.
He explained that the initiative formed part of the government’s plan to increase cocoa production in the country.
Supervision of COCOBOD
Justifying the decision of the President, Akufo-Addo, to put the COCOBOD under the MOFA, Dr Akoto said this was not the first time this was happening since the ministry had been the mother ministry of COCOBOD in the past.
He said when it was formed in 1947, COCOBOD was under the Ministry of Agriculture but was brought under the supervision of the Presidency during the Acheampong regime because of its huge contribution to national revenue at that time.
“Cocoa at that time contributed about a quarter of the fiscal revenue of the country, which was huge because we are talking about 24 per cent of our revenue.”
“So, out of desperation, he decided to move it from the Ministry of Agriculture and bring it under the Presidency at the castle,” he stated.
“It came to the Presidency and he later created a ministry for it, which was the Ministry of Cocoa Affairs. In the course of time, he was overthrown by the Akufo administration who decided that they will change the law so that it reflects that the Ministry of Trade will have oversight responsibility over COCOBOD.
“Somehow, mysteriously, COCOBOD found itself under the Ministry of Finance although the law says that it is the Ministry of Trade that should play the supervisory role.
How COCOBOD has remained under the Ministry of Finance is still a mystery,” he added.
Step in right direction
He said the fact that COCOBOD had been moved back to the Agriculture Ministry where it actually belonged was already a step in the right direction, since the ministry had the agronomists and experts to address the challenges of the sector.
“In the meantime, even if you look at contemporary arrangements, when you go to Cote d’Ivoire, you have a 12-storey building, the Ministry of Agric sits at the top and there are cocoa, coffee, cashew in one block under the ministry.”
“And here is a US$12 billion dollar sector that he sits over, and it’s not with the Ministry of Finance but the Ministry of Agric,” he said.
“You go to Togo, Nigeria, Kenya, Uganda and East Africa and it’s the same situation there. They all have all the major commodities under the Ministry of Agriculture,” he added.
“Who are the agronomists at the Ministry of Finance who can turn the fortunes around? We are the Agric Ministry and we have the agronomists and everything here to be able to supervise the revival of the industry,” he said.