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(Ghana) Cocoa farmers identify threat to hand pollination exercise

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Mr. Edward Kwasi Batea points to burnt pods after spraying Banzar chemical.

Government, in a bid to boost Ghana’s Cocoa production by increasing yield, introduced the Hand Pollination Programme in 2017 – an artificial process whereby the pollen is taken from flowers on the same tree, or nearby trees, and attached to or dropped on the stigma, leading to cross-pollination which allows many flowers to be pollinated a day; resulting in massive fertilisation and cherrelle development.

Over the years, many Ghanaian cocoa farmers have complained about low crop yields and the resultant effects on their financial fortunes; as such, the introduction of such novelty has come as good news to cocoa farmers in the country.

While presenting the mid-year Budget Review and Economic Planning statement to Parliament on Monday, July 31, 2017, Finance Minister Mr. Ken Ofori-Atta said it was the objective of government to reverse the declining trend and increase production to more than one million tonnes per annum within the next four years”.

As artificial means are used to supplement natural pollination, the programme has been successful over the years – with cocoa farmers doubling their yields since its inception.

The programme however faces danger, as some cocoa farmers in the Brong Ahafo Region have already identified some threats on their farms and are calling on government to as a matter of urgency intervene for prompt remedy.

Visit to Bechem, Brong Ahafo Region

Growing up as the son of a cocoa farmer, I saw my father and many other cocoa farmers rely on nature for their cocoa yields; which I believe has resulted in declining yields over the years.

The introduction of a hand pollination programme by government to enhance pollination, and therefore cherrelle and pod formation, was not only welcome news but timely for those of us whose livelihoods depend on and are still linked to cocoa farming.

It is in view of this that I spent my Christmas break visiting some cocoa farms in the Brong Ahafo Region to be part of the success story chalked-up by the hand pollination exercise. My interactions with many farmers during the visit revealed a distressful phenomenon in the use of one of the products supplied them for flower-enhancing and formation known as Banzar. Ironically, instead of increased flower production, flowers occurring naturally get withered or burnt after its use.

42-year old Cocoa farmer Edward Kwasi Batea, who owns a 2-acre cocoa farm located at Nhyiam – a village in the Bechem district of Brong Ahafo Region, was praiseful of government for introducing the hand pollination programme – which he confirmed had increased his yield over the past two years after his farm was pollinated. However, in the past 2018 crop season, when he sprayed the chemical Banzar to enhance flowering and podding, most of the flowers rather withered 10 days after spraying.

Mr. Batea shared his story during an interview:

My farm was part of the farms which benefitted from the Pollination exercise in 2017 when it was first introduced. Before the Pollination exercise way back in 2015-2016, I harvested about 6-7 bags; but in 2017 when my farm was pollinated I had more than 11 bags which looked like magic to me.

In 2018 the pollination was done, but as usual government advised us to buy fertiliser to support flower production and also supplied us with the chemical Banzar. To my dismay a few days after spraying the Banzar, I realised even the flowers that had come naturally started to wither and drop. The pods too had burns and turned black. I asked other cocoa farmers around and they all complained of the same thing. I am appealing for government to investigate and change this Banzar chemical to avert catastrophe.”

Many other farmers, including Opanin Emmanuel Kwame Akpalu who also has his farm at Nhyiam-Bechem, told the same story.

Cocoa, we know, is a good resource; as such, introduction of the hand Pollination exercise brought relief to us the farmers, which will go a long way to affect the nation positively. We are aware there are other chemicals in the market that can produce more flowers after the pollination. Government should therefore arrange to supply the suitable and efficient products to support the good work already being done. We know there are very good Agro-chemicals on the market which do the magic of producing more flowers and retaining them as well, but as farmers we cannot promote any company’s product as such; we leave it for government/Cocobod to follow-up and know the chemical product that will be good for us.”

Opanin Kwame Akpalu praises government for introducing the hand Pollination exercise which has increased his yield

Mr. Allotey Boateng owns a 60-acre cocoa farm located at Yamfo in Bechem, and also expressed similar sentiments:

As for me, I believe that farming is a business so I buy chemicals myself – which is not always enough considering the size of my farm. The hand Pollination has helped us to get more yield, but the Banzar affected us a lot in 2018. We thank government for introducing the hand pollination exercise, but I believe they can invest more in the programme by supplying us with the right chemicals that will give more flowers and retain them as well,” he also pleaded.

Mr. Allotey Boateng also confirmed harvesting double yield as a result of the hand Pollination, but called on government to replace the Banzar chemical to drive programme

Ghana, as we have grown to witness, is one of the world’s leading producers of cocoa and the country depends heavily on cocoa for its foreign exchange earnings as well as the provision of employment opportunities for a large number of its population. As such, a programme such as the hand pollination, I believe, should be safeguarded with every inch of the country’s resources to promote/boost our cocoa production.

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