Friends of the Earth- Ghana (FoE) a pro- environment Non -Governmental Organization is urging government to take a tougher stance on cocoa led- deforestation by equipping the Forestry Commission to increase its forest monitoring activities to prevent reserve encroachment before it happens.
The Organisation also emphasised the need for collaboration between the Forestry Commission and Cocobod to sensitize farmers on the effects of deforestation as well as work to enforce the laws in order to prevent further reserve encroachment.
The FoE, “believes Ghana has a great opportunity to restore its degraded forest whiles protecting the remaining forest resources if the laws are allowed to work.”
Over the last ten years between 2000 and 2010, Ghana lost a total of about 820,000 hectares of her forest area at a rate of 1.4% per annum and this jumped to a staggering 6% in 2011. Even now deforestation is around 2% or 132,000 hectare per annum, one of the highest rates in the world after Togo and Nigeria. Much of this deforestation is due to the cherished cocoa crop: it is estimated that cocoa farming alone accounts for about 50% of all forest lost by agriculture in Ghana’s high forest zone. Forest experts have warned that Ghana’s natural forest risks being depleted in the next 10 to 20 years.
The calls were made in Accra last Thursday at a press briefing organized by Friends of the Earth- Ghana to bring to the fore its perspective, ‘Toward a Deforestation Free Cocoa in Ghana.
Addressing Journalists, the Project Coordinator at the FoE, Mr Denis Acquah, said while Ghana can be commended for committing to end deforestation in cocoa farming, there is the need to speed up with the National Implementation Plan on the Cocoa and Forest Initiative as reserve encroachment by cocoa farmers continues unabated.
According to Mr Acquah, Cocoa farmers are motivated by the government’s desire to increase cocoa output to a million metric tons annually as well as the political interference in law enforcement, to clear forest lands for farming.
Mr Acquah added, “So farmers are moving fast to establish new farms before the implementation plan is imposed. If the cocoa sector continues with business as usual the forest will disappear at an alarming rate. Actual works on the ground are urgently needed to reverse the declining trend in the country’s forest resources.”
Mr Acquah said, following threats posed by cocoa farmers to the forests, an intense pressure from civil society organizations, the government of Ghana and Cote d’ivoire in November 2017, agreed to a framework for action by committing to ending deforestation in their cocoa supply chain. The framework for action, he said, included promoting forest protection and restoration, respecting cocoa farmer’s rights and promoting sustainable livelihoods for cocoa farmers.
He added that FoE-Ghana, together with other NGOs both international and local has been supporting the ‘’Chocolate Campaign’’ led by Mighty Earth, a global campaign organisation working to protect the environment. The campaign aims to achieve Deforestation-Free Cocoa across the world. In less than a year, this campaign has made significant gains in Africa and beyond.
He cautioned that gains made in the cocoa supply chain cannot be sustained if government does not adequately address the problem of child labour in the cocoa sector.
The 2018 barometer report indicates that as many as 2.1 million children are engaged in the cocoa fields in Ghana and Cote d’ivoire alone.
“This means a high level of school age children have not only abandoned their education but are also exposed to harmful chemicals in spraying and fertilizer applications and attacks from dangerous animals. This will have both immediate and long term effects on the children. Increased cocoa production, poverty, low pay for cocoa and the lack of infrastructure such as schools are some of the reasons for child labour in the cocoa communities,” he said.
Ghana, according to him, may risk being black listed by the United States once more for not doing enough to eliminate child labour in the cocoa communities. He said, through collaborations with cocoa farmers and other stakeholders, government can reduce child labour through awareness creation programmes, continuing to demand a fair returns for farmers so they can afford to pay adult farm workers and provision of basic infrastructure.
Mr Acquah further advocated a fair and sustainable financial packages for Cocoa Farmers in the country as an incentive for their hard work.
He stated that Cocoa farmers in Ghana and Ivory Coast, the two leading producers of the commodity in the world earn less in spite of their unrelenting contributions to the sector.
“For our cocoa farmers, FoE-Ghana is asking for a fair cocoa price for their hard work. It’s unfair that the two leading cocoa producing countries that accounts for over 60% of the global cocoa output, in 2015 between them earned only 5.7 to 8 billion dollars from a chocolate market worth over 100 billion dollars. Cocoa farmers in Ghana and Ivory Coast earns just 5% to 6% of that value. This is highly demotivating for farmers and calls for urgent action,” he demanded.
He said, some farmers in the Amenfi West, Amenfi Central and Amenfi East District of the Western Region-the leading cocoa growing region in Ghana – are cutting down their cocoa farms for rubber plantations. According to these farmers, rubber plantations are more lucrative than the cocoa farms and also working on the cocoa farm is more difficult than on the rubber plantation.
This in Mr Acquah’s view, will challenge government’s determination to increase Ghana’s cocoa to a million metric tons annually.
He noted, “faced with the challenges of farmers converting their cocoa farms to rubber plantations, cocoa farm expansion into forest reserves and encouraging the Ghanaian youth to go into cocoa farming, there are more than enough reasons for Government to push at the international platform for a fair and sustainable financial package for our farmers.”
Cocoa is the most important cash crop to both the Ghanaian economy and as the main source of livelihood for over a million farmers. Ghana is the world’s second largest producer of cocoa, and exports about 800,000 metric tons accounting for over 9% of the country’s GPD. However, not all news about this cherished crop is pleasing to the ear and sight.
By Mohammed Suleman