October 24, 1995
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From Correspondent Gary Strieker
NANKESE, Ghana (CNN) -- Thomas Tawiah surveys the 10 acres on which his father planted cocoa trees nearly 50 years ago. He says it was good business then, but today there's no money in cocoa.
There was a time when Ghana was the world's leader in cocoa production. "In the past cocoa was Ghana," said Ato Ahwoi, a cocoa dealer. "It accounted for 80 percent of foreign exchange and 70 percent of government revenues."
Ghana's cocoa industry almost collapsed in the 1970s and 1980s after years of government mismanagement, rising costs, fierce competition from other cocoa-producing nations, and falling world market prices for cocoa beans. Thirty years ago, when the market price was three times what it is today, Ghana produced twice as much cocoa. (983K QuickTime movie)
During the decline, farmers neglected their plantations and failed to replace old trees. Some switched to more profitable crops such as pineapples, and many young people left their farms to find work in towns and cities.
But at the urging of the World Bank and other aid donors, Ghana's government has carried out major reforms in the cocoa sector, improving efficiency and channeling more money to farmers. At the same time, world market prices have recovered from historic lows.
The result is a turnaround in cocoa production, in what some say is the start of a solid recovery for Ghana's cocoa industry. Joe Atiemo of the Cocoa Board of Ghana is one of the believers. (108K AIFF sound or 108K WAV sound) There are plans in the country for more downstream cocoa processing and more factories to export cocoa products, including high-quality chocolate.
Despite the years of decline, the cocoa industry is still the mainstay of Ghana's economy. But despite the optimism of people like Atiemo, what lies ahead for the country's cocoa is uncertain. Competition is growing from highly efficient cocoa plantations in the Far East. And for the 1.5 million cocoa farmers in Ghana, each with only a few acres, profit margins are still too low to encourage more investment in fertilizers, pesticides and higher-yielding trees.
Some analysts say the long-term outlook for cocoa in Ghana is gloomy. If the hoped-for recovery fails to materialize, "it would mean that we have to shift to other export commodities," Ahwoi said. "We have to look around for other things we can export to replace cocoa."
Farmers such as Tawiah agree. He said he needs more money from his cocoa crop to help feed his family. Unless things change, he said, he'll pull out his cocoa trees and grow something else.
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