COCOA CALLING!…a birthday and a game changer

Esther A. Armah

70 years old. It’s the CocoBod’s birthday. And it’s been a tumultuous 70 years. The Jubilee Park, Kumasi celebration saw our President caution this body against repeating its past of financial malfeasance, corruption and other mismanagement accusations. And he celebrated the history of a sector on whose back Ghana’s economic prosperity grew.

It was also World Cocoa Day. Cocoa is Ghana’s gold.

Cocoa is the main source of income for 800,000 small-scale farmers. It is the sector that has the capacity to transform Ghana’s present day economy. Cocoa is land, wealth, raw material, manufactured chocolate, nutritional and health care products. Chocolate, cocoa butter, cocoa powder, cocoa liquor, animal feed, and garden fertilizers – these are just some of the products that come from the cocoa bean.

It contains a wealth of unrealized opportunity. It has never been treated that way.

Ghana could produce cocoa farmer millionaires. It is a multi-million dollar industry in the making. And yet, cocoa farmers sit at the bottom of economic ladders. They exist in deep pockets of poverty from which they seek escape. This is despite 60% of the world’s cocoa coming from Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire.

What role has The CocoBod played in decimating cocoa’s potential power, devastating the sector and greedily gathering wealth while watching a sector die and its farmers navigate this neglect?

The CocoBod – the Cocoa Marketing Body – began as agitation for justice. President Akufo-Addo recounted cocoa’s founding history; the fight to reject the European POOL created as a result of the world slump in cocoa prices in the 1930s. Such auspicious beginnings that then enabled a nation to grow and prosper devolved into serial allegations of mismanagement, corrupt practice and financial impropriety.

The call to emerge from this era comes at an important moment in Ghanaian and global history.

Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire emerged from two different colonial masters. This freedom from the shackles of colonialism has yet to fully impact Ghana’s economy. Cocoa could be the first product for which economic freedom, articulated by Ghana’s first president Kwame Nkrumah, could be fully realized.

The fight will be bloody.

Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire may dominate in the raw material sector. The dominant chocolate producing markets are in the West.

Economic justice for Ghana’s farmers and West Africa’s economic health guarantees decreased dominance for chocolate producing Western nations. This will not be a negotiation of partners. It will be fight for a different kind of economic freedom and power.

I relish such a fight.

Ghana’s transformed economy – just like her independence and even the very creation of the Cocoa Marketing Body – will come because nations like Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire come together to make decisions rooted in their national economic interest. Collective thinking is welcome. Collaboration not competition is what has always been necessary between Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire.

I was excited to hear the President confirm that should the West seek to further manipulate the cocoa market to privilege them, but ultimately punish the farmers, these cocoa producing nations would seek other markets in nations like Brazil. I hope these are not idle threats. Such economics could produce the first real shift in global modern economic wealth for a nation like Ghana.

Cote d’Ivoire must wrestle with her French colonial economic masters, and their relationship with their West European neighbours for whom a great cocoa price for Cote d’Ivoire means less profit for them.

Belgium is known globally for her chocolate. The chocolatiers are world renowned. Brands like Lindor are luxury chocolate brands. Their raw material is born of this land and these farmers.

There are important gender issues here too.

On International Women’s Day in 2016, the UNDP highlighted the stories, challenges and successes of women in Ghana’s cocoa sector. Indeed, women actually own fully half of the world’s farms. Their businesses are typically smaller, and they get less access to financial assistance. Economic policy shifts transforms the lives, opportunities and futures for women.

In Ghana, cocoa farms are typically family businesses. Child labour on cocoa farms has been a major issue. Children who should be in school are instead working to support families on farms. Free SHS means those children are now given access to education.

And of course with cocoa farming there has been the galamsey connection, the deforestation issues and the need to nurse starved soil back to health.  This becomes possible with an implemented policy that redraws the cocoa map between Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire and reimagines the economic relationship with the West.

This so far export economy is poised to begin to walk a path towards prosperity. This is leadership.

If this rhetoric becomes a reality, we are poised to witness a powerful economic transformation in the journey of cocoa in this country. Adding value to cocoa, creating wealth from it may also then lead fewer to reject the farming life when it is reimagined as a source of wealth creation instead of its current position as one of poverty and hardship.

President Akufo-Addo’s overtures to Cote d’Ivoire to reimagine their relationship in order to better negotiate cocoa prices on global economic stages is exciting. They could – and frankly should – do with cocoa what the oil producing nations did with OPEC (The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries).

This permanent, intergovernmental organization was created at the September 1960 Baghdad Conference by Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Venezuela. Collectively, they produced the majority of the world’s oil at that time. OPEC sought to protect their raw material and determine prices on a global stage. OPEC’s objective?  Co-ordinate and unify petroleum policies among Member Countries, in order to secure fair and stable prices for petroleum producers. That would mean an efficient, economic and regular supply of petroleum to consuming nations; and a fair return on capital to those investing in the industry.

Cocoa requires a regional body with similar aims and objectives. OPEC was created during a time of transition. Cocoa now faces a similar moment.

The rise and rise of white nationalism in North America and across Europe has created turmoil and has shaken notions of democracy and security in nations for whom this was a given. Into this climate, West Africa must seize an opportunity to act.

Hand in hand policies: free SHS; one district, one factory; end galamsey all connect to the cocoa sector. This neglected sector nurtured corruption and fed galamsey. Changing the economic fortunes of cocoa farmers contributes to ending galamsey.

Such policy serves to end colonialism’s legacy that continues its stranglehold via business methods between African nations.

The fight begins with an articulated vision. It moves by turning vision into action. And it is sustained by implementing policy that puts people – not politics – first.

The CocoBod may have turned 70, but, it is the birth of an economic policy alliance on cocoa between Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire that I celebrate.

This birthday is more than celebration. It is bigger than a beginning.

It is a game changer.

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