* Some traders say afraid to antagonize cocoa regulator
* Cocoa contributes around 7 pct of Ghana's GDP
* Some farmers say want distribution of inputs depoliticised
By Matthew Mpoke Bigg
ACCRA, Dec 19 Ghana's incoming government could
give the country's $2 billion cocoa industry a boost if it
installs a more transparent executive at industry regulator
Cocobod and implements reforms, industry sources said.
The New Patriotic Party (NPP) said its priority is to push
annual cocoa output in the world's second-biggest producer above
1 million tonnes when it takes power in January under
President-elect Nana Akufo-Addo using a series of fresh
A big issue is the role of Cocobod chief executive. Industry
officials said CEO Stephen Opuni's position is vulnerable
because he publicly supported President John Mahama who lost the
Dec. 7 election.
Traders and buyers credit the regulator for maintaining the
premium quality of Ghana's cocoa and increasing the guaranteed
minimum price paid to farmers to 70 percent of net free-on-board
but they say greater access to Cocobod is crucial.
"For the last two years, it has been very closed and very
difficult to meet with Cocobod," one senior Ghana cocoa
operative said in a comment echoed by several others.
Cocobod plays a unique role both regulating the sector and
exporting beans through its Cocoa Marketing Company as well as
distributing fertilizer, pesticides and seedlings.
Few were willing to speak openly for fear of antagonizing
Cocobod and some said that in itself reduced accountability.
Buyers said they were unwilling to challenge the regulator for
fear of damaging business relationships.
"Nobody dares to stand up to Cocobod," said one buyer, who
declined to be named.
Cocobod CEO Opuni did not respond to requests for comment.
Ghana accounts for up to 25 percent of global cocoa supply
and the industry also contributes around 7 percent of GDP as
well as up to one quarter of the country's export earnings.
The NPP has established a transition team but is yet to name
a finance minister, one of whose statutory roles is to oversee
Its manifesto outlines policies including re-activating mass
spraying, replanting farms with high yield trees, improving
local processing and compensating farmers for diseased trees.
The party will "ensure that farmers receive increased
producer prices plus bonuses high enough to encourage them to
produce more cocoa for export (and) ensure that the value that
farmers receive for their produce is not diluted by depreciation
of the cedi against the dollar".
Industry sources calculate Cocobod controls around half a
billion dollars in funds per year, and must therefore increase
its financial transparency and move towards depoliticising its
dealings with farmers.
Several farmers said supporters of the outgoing National
Democratic Party government gained better access to seedlings
and inputs in the run-up to the vote than supporters of the
opposition. Cocobod denied this.
At the same time, the regulator's promise of free
fertilizers, pesticides, spraying and seedlings had discouraged
private sector participation and made farmers unhealthily
dependent on free products rather than buying on the market.
"It's not an effective system. It's expensive and in the end
not all farmers have access to these kinds of products. Because
of the free elements the farmer has no opportunity to buy if he
would have wanted to," one senior market source said.
Others said it would be better if Cocobod's role was
reconfigured to focus solely on regulation, opening space for
the private sector.
Ghana's cocoa production peaked in the 2010/11 season at
more than 1 million tonnes, dipped to under 750,000 tonnes in
2014/15 season before rebounding slightly last season.
One senior cocoa analyst said current production was running
around 10,000 tonnes higher than the same point in the previous
season. It would fall back in January and February but the
mid-crop was expected to be strong, the analyst said.
However, the country needs to improve productivity per
hectare. A step towards this is to map the size of each farm and
count the number of farmers to get a more precise figure than
the 800,000 that is often mentioned.
"We are looking forward to seeing all the things they (the
NPP) have been promising," Nana Johnson Mensah, a chief farmer
of Western region south, told Reuters.
(Editing by Susan Thomas)