Mar 08



I love the guys who wrote the psalms in the Old Testament of the Holy Bible.
Well, all right – I mean the scribes who translated the words from Hebrew and Greek into English of the era of King James. The words are often so honeyed that they stay in the mind almost for ever,  once one has learnt them. Even when the reason why one chewed them by heart has long become irrelevant

In my school days, we chewed psalms mostly just before examinations. But we also chewed them when – Lord forgive thy sinful servant — we had our eye on a pretty girl and she wasn’t taking any notice of us. We recited the psalms, and then in a burst of self-confidence, approached her and gave her the line, “I’d like you to come and visit me.”

No “please” or anything. ”Come to me!” Oh my God! How sweet is the simplicity of the Twi language – which doesn’t bother to make any distinction between consuming food and robbing a pretty young lady of her virginity. I have a pet theory that rape and other sexual crimes are so rare in most Ghanaian communities because such a natural attitude to sexual matters — helped by language — has robbed the sexual act of its mystery to us, and that we have   no overwhelming desire to unravel a mystery that does not exist for us.

Speaking for myself, when I was about six years old, I opened the door to my father’s living room to find – one of my grandmothers acting as a midwife to one of my female cousins. I fled from the room, of course, but not before I had seen something which married men were only allowed to see happen to their wives only a few decades ago.

After that baptism of blood, I became a “child-birth coward”, and never dared to watch any of my own children being born. Usually, I took refuge in a bottle of something quite strong, as I empathised with the blessed woman who was doing her best to make me a father (again). Since these things take time, I would normally forget that there was still liquid in the bottle, and by the time I “came to” (as the comics put it) I would be given the news that I had had happy news whilst comatose, was a father, and that both wife and her child were fine.

Yes – I was talking about the psalms, wasn’t I? Where else can one find a sentence that begins: “I have been young, and now am old, yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken, or his children begging bread” (Psalm 37 Verse 25).

Or: “This poor man cried,. And the Lord heard him, and saved him from all his troubles.” (34.6) All his troubles oh — not just a few or some: but all!

And finally this (37:35-36) I have seen the wicked in great power, and spreading himself like a green bay tree. Yet he passed away, and, lo, he was not: yea – I sought his place but he could not be found.” Imagine looking at your presumed “enemy” (mine were mostly conjured out of youthful neurosis, I suppose) and saying in your head, “You think you’re a green bay tree, but I shall seek your place, and you shall not be found!”. Great for self—assurance, no? (That passage once helped me to retain my equanimity after I had been given a particulalrly nasty “query” while working at the Ghana Broadcasting Corporation.)

But the one I want to deal with today is the one about having been young and now being old: I have been young, and now I am old, but never before have I seen a news item like this one:

“BLOOMBERG: The cocoa-industry regulator in Ghana, the world’s second-biggest grower of the chocolate ingredient, said it is concerned that “unscrupulous persons” are encouraging farmers to spray “anointing oil” on their crop to boost yields. “These persons who claim to be ‘prophets’ and ‘pastors’ are using local FM stations and information centres in the cocoa-growing areas to misinform our hard-working cocoa farmers,” the Ghana Cocoa Board said in an e-mailed statement….

“The Accra-based board, known as Cocobod, urged farmers to report people who promote the use of religious ointments on cocoa trees to the country’s security agencies.”

Some friends on a discussion board to which I subscribe think this is Ghanaian ‘pentecostalism’ carried to excess.,

But I think it is worse than that – it is the logical consequence of the mystification [Frantz Fanon loved that word] which our governments have woven around our cocoa industry from the colonial to the current time. Our farmers grow cocoa. Yet few of them have ever seen how chocolate is made from cocoa.

Worse, none of them knows how the Government of the day arrives at the price it pays them,. Why is it that when you grow maize, you take it to the market and sell it to a buyer and you agree the price between trhe two of you, and yet when you grow cocoa, you MUST sell it to a body full of chubby-cheeked educated people, few of whom have ever stepped into a cocoa farm but who drive posh cars, live in nice bungalows and so on – out of the proceeds of your cocoa? And it is these guys who sell the cocoa to the ultimate consumer –a factory in Europe or America?

And look at this situation: usually, it is a tree that gives food to its parasite, is it not? Yet in the case of the cocoa farmer, it is the parasite –0r the Cocobod, which would have no work to do at all if  no cocoa was produced by the farmers — that DECIDES how much the farmers should be paid, from the price the Cocobod gets from the manufacturers of chocolate! The Cocobod, with the might of governmental legislation behind it, decides how much its “allowance” should be, tells the Ministry of Finance (which usually rubber-stamps the recommendations of the Cocobod, its “milch-cow”)  takes it out o0f the proceeds of cocoa sales abroad, and then gives the rest to the Government as “export duty” on cocoa.

It is when the two parasites have DECIDED between themselves, how much  THEY want to eat, that they give the remainder to the cocoa farmer! The Ghanaian cocoa farmer, in effect, is the last slave of the 21st centruy. Everyone looks for the consumer of his product, and sells to the consumer willingly. The Ghanaian cocoa farmer, on the other hand,  is forced by law to accept whatever price the Cocobod decides to give him. And the government allows it, because export duty provides a lot of money to it and it doesn’t want to upset the Cocobod that acts as the funnel between cocoa sales abroad and the payment of cocoa export duty to the government.

The highest percentage of the world cocoa price recently paid to cocoa farmers was about 53% — sometimes, the farmer gets only between 25 and 30 percent of the world price. To conceal the cheating, the Cocobod hardly ever publishes the world price. It just says, for this season, the local price paid to farmers will be such and such per tonne, or such and such for a load of 60 pounds ( abourt 30 kilos). Thievery by denial of access to information — nothing else.

Even more more annoying, the Cocobod is so greedy that it has cornered the lucrative ancillary services of ordering cocoa bags, insecticide spray  and other inputs for the farmers. Can you imagine the French or Italian Government importing wine bottles for wine producers, and keeping the profits from that side of the wine  business to itself? Farmers are clever enough to harvest cocoa and dry it toi a first-class quality before selling it, yet are too thick to import their own insect spray? Do me a favour!

Regrettably, many people do not understand what the cocoa industry is about. The ‘cocoa-anointers’,  for instance, do not know that when we over-produce cocoa, we get paid less for it on the world market, despite the increased labour we have to put into managing  the bigger crop!

Not that they care a dime about the laws of  supply and demand. What they are interested in is to stake a claim in the mind of the cocoa farmer– if they have ‘anointed’ your cocoa trees for you, then when you harvest the crop, you must pay a tithe to the church on the proceeds, mustn’t you?

Even our University students do not understand the economics of cocoa production. In 1979 and 1982-83, out of very lofty motives, they cut classes and went into the bush to cart cocoa to Tema for export. All very good – except that the tremendous publicity that surrounded the exercise  — with soldiers joining them and being widely photographed — enabled the cocoa speculators on the world market to estimate accurately, just how much cocoa Ghana would be able to put on the market at that time!. So long as the speculators know how much we shall be putting on the world market, they can calculate exactly what stocks to hold, what to buy on speculation to “cover themselves” in what months, and so on. It is mostly paper transactions carried out with great expertise,  and some speculators do make a killing out of it. One of them, in London,l has grown so rich out of the business that his nick-name is “Chocfinger”. James Bond’s enemy, “Goldfinger” made his money out of gold; “Chocfingewr” makes his out of the main ingredient used in making chocolate — cocoa!

Some cocoa merchants go to the extent of buying their own farms in Ghana and staffing them with experienced  cocoa-growers, who can produce global  figures of a farm’s likely output, by studying  the growth of  “cherrelles” (young pods) on the cocoa tree trunks. From one tree, they can tell how much the whole farm can produce, and then they estimate how much farms in the whole area may be able to produce. Next, they extrapolate  our national production by sending the information to Britain and the USA to be put through complex algorithmic calculations.

These things are so important – and lucrative — to the speculators that once, when I wrote an article for Reuters Economic Services  and threw in an innocuous  line that  the death of the  King of Akyem Abuakwa — a cocoa-growing state — might affect cocoa harvesting, a cocoa merchant sent an official fr0m London to come and pry from me, the “source” of my information.
Though I am normally polite, I drove this guy out of my house and told him to go and ask the editor of the London Times whom he means when he prints articles quoting “informed sources!”.


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    • Samuel on March 9, 2011 at 9:50 am

    These speculators are very meticulous in their work. Its sad that our cocoa agencies dont take much attention to the plight of the cocoa farmer. Back in my secondary school days one guy was on a cocoa scholarship but this guy didnt even know ablekuna let alone tafo, bunso and other cocoa areas. Cocoa farmers are the most disadvantage people in this country. But its also reflection of a general state of farmers in this country. A few weeks ago there was a bumper harvest in tomatoes in Ghana. My mum bought a basket of it for just 3 cedis just a fox weeks later joy fm reported how farmers in the north were making losses because there were no trucks to carry the tomatoes. A whole district had only 1 truck and their produce were getting rotten. My mum went to the market later and the same basket sold for 5 cedis in just a 1 month. Thats how we make nonsene of our inflation figures

    • admin on March 9, 2011 at 11:26 am

    Excellent, Sammy. The CMB never uses its trucks to help ordinary farmers — after the cocoa harvest, the officials use them as they like! Yet they could sell them off cheaply to the best farmers and give them a bit of capital (while helping them to diversify sensibly and becoming a bit more wealthy!) we live in a land of fools ruled by idiots (and I don’t only mean the politicians but the selfish bureaucracy in general)

    • Samuel on March 9, 2011 at 1:39 pm

    Yeah. Just look at this scenario. The national health insurance scheme needs a percentage of the revenue that is collected from the national health insurance levy. After collection the service has to wait for authorisation from the ministry of finance and accountant general before they get their money. This takes months before the insurance scheme gets it months. Thus they suffer in paying quality health service to us all because of this needless bureaucratic procedure. Why cant the money from the taxes paid in straight away into the coffers of the insurance scheme.

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