Ghana risks losing its major foreign exchange earner cocoa, due to a combination of factors such as illegal mining, accumulated losses and major developments by some advanced countries to aggressively grow and export the crop.
The Ghana Cocoa Board which is mandated to supervise the production and export of cocoa in the country is reeling under huge annual losses which the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has identified as a major threat to the sector and government’s fiscal efforts.
The fund in its report on Ghana’s extended credit facility programme said COCOBOD had accumulated annual losses for many years.
It said those losses had been accumulated due to high rollover cost of outstanding cocoa bills, high purchase price to cocoa producers compared to its operational costs, and elevated quasi-fiscal operations such as fertiliser provision, rural roads development that have also been a burden on the board’s administrative expenses.
COCOBOD in January this year defaulted on payments for maturities of its 182-day bill, rolling over outstanding securities with face value of GH¢ 940.42 million.
The government is currently engaging with investors for a restructuring of the cocoa bills.
The sector has also not been spared the harsh realitiies of illegal minners whose activities have affected cocoa production.
In February this year, the Graphic Online reported that National Cocoa Rehabilitation Programme which was done at a cost of GHC 4.2 million faces threats from illegal miners who have taken over cocoa farms across the country, including farms which were recently rehabilitated.
Foreign nationals have also taken advantage of the lapsed security issues at the district levels to perpetuate huge devastation of cocoa farms in favor of mining gold.
Government efforts at fighting these menace have so far proved futile.
These challenges, coupled with some non-producing countries in Europe and Asia venturing into the production and export of cocoa poses a huge risk to the country;s cocoa sector.
Ghana earns over $ 3 billion in forex alone for the raw exports of the cocoa beans. Ghana’s cocoa commands a premium on the international market.
Ghana and Cote D’voire are facing competition from Western and far east countries, some of whom have started experimenting with cocoa production and the possibility of exports.
The decision of the top two cocoa-producing countries, Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire, to institute some aggressive measures aimed at safeguarding its cocoa industry appears not to sit well with global players, some of whom are now exploring the possibility of producing their own cocoa beans.
In 2018, Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire agreed to set a floor price for cocoa on the global commodity market, below which none of the two countries would sell its produce.
Another key action point was the adoption of a concurrent opening season and announcement of producer prices to be paid to farmers in the two countries.
In addition to this, the two countries, in 2019, also introduced the Living Income Differential (LID), which set a standard of $400 per tonne and charged on top of world prices.
The LID was introduced to guarantee cocoa farmers a minimum price that would improve the income of farmers, many of whom live in poverty.
At a recent meeting in Accra, Ghana’s Minister of Food and Agriculture reiterated that the two countries would continue to collaborate to push for good pricing on the international market
Last year, it was reported that the two countries were boycotting meetings in Brussels for the World Cocoa Foundation on cocoa sustainability because some multinational chocolate companies and traders were blocking the LID.
In what may seem like a response to these measures by the two countries that account for almost 65 per cent of global cocoa beans, China and some countries in Europe have started the production of cocoa beans.
The Chinese Academy of Tropical Agricultural Sciences (CATAS), in 2021, reported that South China's island province of Hainan had exported cocoa beans to Belgium for the first time.
The China Daily newspaper quoted Hao Zhaoyun, a researcher with CATAS as saying: “The first batch of 500kg of cocoa beans, worth $3,600, was produced in Xinglong, a township of Hainan with a tropical climate.”
Although China currently does not appear in the 45 top cocoa-producing countries in the world, many experts opined that its full entry into the cocoa export space was a potential threat to the fortunes of the two biggest cocoa-producing countries, Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana.
Their apprehension was bolstered by the application of technology in cocoa production in China.
Although COCOBOD at the time expressed concern about the development, it nevertheless said it was too early for the country to panic.
“We are concerned, but it is too early for anyone to start panicking because if you look at the quantity of cocoa that has been exported by China, it is quite small and less than one tonne.”
“We are concerned due to the fact that if production is increasing at a time when consumption in the world is not increasing, then obviously it will have an effect on the price,” the Senior Public Relations Officer (PRO) of COCOBOD, Mr Fiifi Boafo, told the Daily Graphic at the time.
Quite recently, a team of horticulturalists in Spain claimed to be the first in Europe to have produced a significant cocoa crop, paving the way for the production of gourmet chocolate.
The group reported that cocoa beans grown in Malaga would be used by Andalusia’s only surviving chocolate factory to make a limited supply of confectionery this year.
“We are growing about 80 cocoa trees in two greenhouses; one heated and one unheated.
What makes this first harvest particularly successful is the fact that it has been achieved not only in the heated greenhouse but also in the unheated one,” said Hormaza, who is in charge of the institute’s subtropical fruit growing department.
In the early days, Ghana used to be a huge exporter of pineapples to Europe. However, after Costa Rica introduced its own variant of pineapples onto the European market, Ghana’s export has dwindled significantly in the last couple of years.
There is also the story of how Malaysia came to learn the palm oil business from Ghana and now boasts as one of the largest producers and exporters of palm oil on the global market.
The decision of these countries to, therefore, start cocoa production should not be taken lightly, as it might lead to the overproduction of cocoa beans on the international market, which would cause cocoa prices to slump, a situation which would further reduce the meagre revenue the country gets from the commodity.
These developments point to the fact that the country cannot still just rely on the export of raw cocoa beans to Europe.
The country must also start eyeing the European chocolate market which was valued at about €42 billion in 2022.
Despite producing about 20 per cent of the world’s total cocoa beans, Ghana gets only $2 billion in terms of revenue from the $100 billion cocoa industry.
Together with Cote d’Ivoire, the two countries produce about three million tonnes of cocoa beans, which translate into about 65 per cent of the world’s cocoa, but the revenue generated from the sale of cocoa for the two countries doesn’t even add up to $6 billion.
With the entire value chain expected to increase to about $140 billion by 2024, the country cannot continue to export cocoa in its raw form.
The coming on board of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) agreement also presents the country with the opportunity to pay more attention to the local processing of cocoa beans to take advantage of the 1.4 billion market size expected to be created by the agreement.
The country currently has seven major cocoa processing companies, with an estimated processing capacity of about 500,000 tonnes.
The construction of a new 50,000-capacity processing factory in the Western Region is also currently ongoing and the new factory, when completed, will increase the capacity to about 550,000 tonnes.
With an annual cocoa production of between 800,000 to 900,000 tonnes, this means that the country currently can process even more than 50 per cent of its cocoa beans locally before export.