By: Carolyn Thompson and John Van Dusen
ANKASA – Ghana’s cocoa farmers say purchasers are stealing from them using improperly balanced scales.
“If you go to the place to weigh your cocoa, and the buyer tells you a price, you can’t challenge him because you need money,” said Paul Kodjoe, a cocoa farmer from Ankasa. “No one is buying cocoa other than him.”
Kodjoe’s farm spreads over several hillsides near the Ankasa Forest Reserve, close to the Ivory Coast border. For 20 years he has farmed there, adding rubber plants and raising some livestock in addition to the cocoa.
In the community, he’s nicknamed “the Frenchman,” after his Ivory Coast roots and the language skills he maintained from living in Paris for ten years.
Despite his francophone roots, Kodjoe said Ankasa is now his home. But without sufficient revenue from his cocoa sales, he’s not sure if he can stay.
Kodjoe said that while the government regulation sets a fixed price for 64 kilograms, without properly balanced scales farmers are being paid the same price for as much as 70 kilograms or more. The farmers have no means of challenging the price quoted by the purchasers.
“That is a big problem,” he said. “Because for the maintainers of the farm, it’s very costly.”
He said farmers such as him face rising costs of fertilizer, labourers, and supplies, and make a small profit margin on the cocoa sold.
“So if they take 15 kilos, then we are working without profit,” he said.
Kodjoe, chairman of the Jomoro Cocoa Association, said he raised concerns over the scales two years ago with the Ghana Cocoa Board, a regulatory body.
“The Cocoa Board already has 100,000 weighing stones, so that we can control the scales, but they have given (the buyers) the stones and they are not using it,” Kodjoe said. “Now the cocoa board has to open its mouth. They have to insist that they use it.”
Noah Amenya, public affairs manager for the Ghana Cocoa Board, said the farmers also have a role in curbing cheating.
“It is very painful for a farmer to produce cocoa only for the purchasing clerk to cheat him this way,” he said. “We don’t expect them to do that.”
Amenya confirmed that the Cocoa Board has caught buyers tipping the scales in the past.
The board met with Kodjoe and representatives from other cocoa farmer associations last week. The farmers were told to report corrupt buyers to the police.
“They can ask the police to arrest them because it is an illegal act. They can also report them to the cocoa board,” he said, adding that the regulatory body can undergo investigations.
“If we find anyone culpable, that person will be brought to book.”
The Ghana Standards Authority requires cocoa to be thoroughly dried before sale. Amenya said in some instances, buyers argued the cocoa wasn’t fully dried when it was weighed. To compensate, they added a few more kilograms.
“(Farmers) should dry the cocoa thoroughly so the license buying companies don’t take advantage and say, ‘it’s not dry and we have to weigh higher because we have to finish the job for you,'” Amenya said. “When you do that you are selling yourself out and they can cheat you. So you have to be patient and dry the cocoa thoroughly.”
The Standards Authority has addressed problems with the scales in the past. It recommended using a sealed scale that comes calibrated to the correct weight of 64 kilograms. It is expected to take effect over the next two years.
“We call on the cocoa buying companies to respect the rules governing the internal marketing of cocoa so that we can all work rather than cheating some members on the value chain,” Amenya said.
Kodjoe said he expects to be watching the scales closely and hopes cocoa farmers across the country will do the same.
“All this enforcement is there but nobody’s using it,” he said, adding that the Cocoa Board is meant to have access to enforcement measures such as fines or rescinding licenses of buyers who cheat.
“But until now, nothing has been done,” he said.