By Ekow Essabra-Mensah
Cocoa farmers say over-aged cocoa tree stocks are producing low yield fruits and hampering national crop production levels.
?The majority of our cocoa tree stock is over 60-years while some are over 100-years. This doesn?t give us good yields and that is why government needs to cut and replant new trees with hybrid crops to help restore over-aged tree stocks, improve yield and boost national revenue.?
Mr. Joseph Addo, a cocoa farmer at Agona Kwaman in the Esikuma-Odoben Brakwa District of the Central Region told this to B&FT in an interview during a visit to some cocoa growing areas in the district: namely Agona Kwaman, Agona Bobikuma, Nsabah, Abodom, Duakwa, Nyarkrom and Esikuma.
He said if steps are not taken to replace the trees with free hybrid seedlings, production targets will reduce in the next few years. The old trees also face the risk of being attacked by diseases and pests.
The country opened the 2013/14 crop on October 18 with an initial target of buying around 830,000 tonnes.
Ghana runs a two-cycle cocoa season consisting of the October-June main crop harvest which is mainly exported, and the July-September light crop that is discounted to local grinders.
The country produced 835,410 tonnes of cocoa during the 2012/13 crop year, down 5 percent on the previous season, cumulative provisional data from industry regulator Cocobod showed.
The purchases for the first 29 weeks were 658,663 tonnes compared with 796,394 tonnes for 2011/2012 during the same period, representing a decline of 17.3 percent.
An unprecedented one million tonnes of cocoa was produced during the 2010/11crop-year, thanks to good weather and improved farming techniques — but production declined to about 850,000 tonnes in the 2011/12 season. Cocobod said cocoa production tends to fall slightly after a bumper year.
Mr. Addo is also worried the mass cocoa spraying programme has not yet been done in the major cocoa growing areas, especially those in the Central Region.
?This year, there has not been any mass spraying in any of the cocoa farms in this village or in the other surrounding communities. Cocobod should have started spraying the cocoa farms by now, but this did not happen. The whole of last year we did not hear of any spraying activities in any farm, especially in the Central region; the cocoa spraying programme has stopped,? he said.
Cocoa yield increased by 49.41% after inception of the programme in spite of the challenges which faced its implementation, while nominal cost of spraying an acre of cocoa farm increased by 271.69% with real cost increased by 0.2%.
About 85% of the cocoa farmers indicated that the programme has generally been beneficial to them.
Among the identified constraints militating against successful implementation of the programme were included insufficient spraying chemicals such as Confidor, Fungaran, Ridomil Gold
Plus, Tara, ?Akate Master? among others as well as inadequate motor fuels, delayed spraying time, pilfering of chemicals by some sprayers and supervisors, low remuneration for employees, and delay in the supply of logistics.
Explaining the difficulties cocoa farmers have to encounter, he said: ?our roads are in a very bad state, as you can see ? we have a low standard of living. Even the road leading to the cocoa shed is very deplorable; we have no development.?
?Even when government announces increases in cocoa producer prices, we only hear it on the radio; information flow to farmers and lack of coordination are the main challenges for farmers,? he said.