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Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Choosing Between Cocoa and Galamsey

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In 1898, a blacksmith by the Tetteh Quarshie, who happened to be playing his trade on the island the Portuguese had named Fernando Po (in Equatorial Guinea now called Bioko), saw a particular tree the fruits of which fascinated him. The fruits, in hard pods, contained seeds around which were a sweetish glue-like sap that intrigued his palate and taste buds. He found it a sweet thing to eat.

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In time, he had to come back to his native land, the place named the Gold Coast by the British, which we now call Ghana.

So, coming back to the Gold Coast, Tetteh Quarshie decided to bring back some of the seeds of the tree to plant for his edification. And thus was born the Cocoa industry, which has since become a major source of wealth for the Ghanaian economy.

The powder made out of the dried hardened seeds of the Cocoa plant is drunk as a beverage worldwide. It is widely accepted as having medicinal properties, and widely recommended for use as an aphrodisiac in its unsweetened form. As a sweet, no party or get together would be complete without it. It is a lover’s staple; women love it, particularly women in love.

Every year, Ghana exports billions of dollars’ worth of cocoa beans into the diaspora, and has been doing so for decades. It is without doubt the single biggest booster of the Ghanaian economy to date. And will probably occupy the same prestigious spot for decades to come.

But the cocoa industry is under attack, by a most insidious enemy. The enemy is illegal mining. Illegal mining is currently destroying thousands of hectares of cocoa farms across the regions of Ghana. It is also virtually destroying all the river bodies and there is no indication that this would come to an end anytime soon. It is quite clear that the galamsey menace, unless tackled frontally, would destroy much of Ghana’s agriculture, and the cocoa industry.

This menace is very obvious. What is also obvious, is that Ghana has a Minister of Agriculture, and we also have a Board Chairman and a Chef Executive Officer for the Ghana Cocoa Board (CCOBOD). In fact, I understand that the COCOBOD is so important that it is under the direct purview of the Minister of Finance. So that at every Cabinet meeting, the issue of cocoa should have at least two powerful voices speaking for it.

But if these two voices are speaking, the evidence on the ground is that their voices are not having the needed effect. Galamsey is still raging, and farms and rivers continue to be destroyed.

So much so, that recently, the Chief Executive Officer of the Ghana Cocoa Board, Joseph Boahen Aidoo, disclosed that the organisation has refunded $250 million it acquired from the African Development Bank for irrigation purposes in cocoa farms.

According to him, the Ghana Irrigation Authority, who were the consultants tasked to execute the project, advised against its feasibility due to the contamination of rivers by illegal mining activities, which posed a threat to cocoa trees.

“When Cocoa Board went to the African Development Bank to secure some US$600 million, then we had to return $250 million. Part of that money was intended for irrigation.

“We commissioned the Ghana Irrigation Development Authority to do a pre-appraisal for our assessment and the report we brought was that almost all the rivers were contaminated.”

The above is happening in Ghana, at a time that the flag bearer of the ruling government, Dr. Mahamudu Bawumia, has pledged that if given power, he would deepen the process of mining even more.

I am certain that if confronted, his apologists would say that Bawumia was speaking about legitimate, certified mining. But really, what is the difference between legalized and illegal mining? Both destroy lands and rivers, with legalized mining having the capacity to destroy the environment on a scale far bigger than illegal mining can ever achieve.

Ghana now stands at a crossroads, faced with a choice between mining and galamsey, and saving the cocoa industry. Given Bawumia’s rhetoric, I am certain about where his choices would lay. He would waste the funds of Ghana, probably supported by the ailing cocoa industry, to create a plant and equipment pool to mount an even more insidious attack on lands and river bodies, so that he can become President.

This article was originally published under the column PERISCOPE DEPTH, published every Monday in the Daily Searchlight newspaper.

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