The Ghana Cocoa, Coffee and Shea-nut Farmers Association has called on the government to re-introduce the Akuafo Cheque payment system.
It said the use of the Akuafo cheques should also be made mandatory for all Licensed Buying Companies (LBCs).
This move, according to the farmers, would enable them to derive maximum benefits from their hard work.
At a stakeholders’ meeting on Cocoa Payment Systems in Accra yesterday, the National Chief Farmer, Alhaji Alhassan Bukari, indicated that the current cash payment system had brought a lot of challenges to the farmers and had rather enriched the buying agents while the farmers were made poorer.
The meeting was funded by the Business Sector Advocacy Challenge Fund (BUSAC), which had three funding partners – DANIDA, USAID and the European Union – and attended by all regional heads of the association, officials from COCOBOD and the Bank of Ghana, among others.
But the management of COCOBOD says it has not stopped using the Akuafo Cheque system introduced during the 1982/83 cocoa season, and that the system is being used alongside cash.
It said it was unrealistic to use cheque only, since some of the farmers, especially the small-scale ones, preferred cash while the large-scale farmers preferred cheques.
Responding to the concerns of the farmers, the Public Relations Manager of COCOBOD, Mr Noah Kwesi Amenyah, told the Daily Graphic that “actually COCOBOD has not suspended the Akuafo Cheque system”.
“We would have wished that this (cheque) was the main mode of payment to the farmers because of the issues of attacks and the difficulties that they (farmers) go through when they collect cash,” he said.
According to him, going to the banks has a lot of advantages, as the banks would be able to help the farmers with some soft loans and make their activities more structured.
But, Mr Amenyah said, when the “multiple buying system came in, there was competition among the LBCs as to who gets what from the farmers, since your ability to offer the farmer cash would make it easier for the farmer to offer you the produce”.
“So most of the LBCs then resorted to using the Akuafo Cheque system to draw money in bulk and then use it in paying the farmers as they come,” he said.
Mr Amenyah said because of the difficulties and inconvenience the farmers went through, the LBCs took advantage of and decided that “we would rather give you the cash so they would cash the cheque and give it to the farmers”.
Mr Amenyah said as the situation stood now, the board could not strictly say that nobody should use cash as it would be a difficult decision.
Stressing the concerns of the farmers, Alhaji Bukari also appealed to the government to support the association to establish a bank so that money to members would be disbursed through the bank for easy access.
He said apart from the security of the cheques, the farmers also derived other benefits including getting the real value of the cocoa prices and payment of bonuses on time.
Alhaji Bukari said under the cheque system, any quantity sold would be recorded and bonuses were paid appropriately.
He explained that with the cash payment system, records were often not kept and thus, making the value of bonuses to be paid to cocoa farmers really difficult.
Moreover, he said, the current cash payment system also allowed caretakers of cocoa farms to steal the cocoa beans to sell them for ready cash.
Alhaji Bukari said although there were problems such as delays in payment of the cheques, which allowed some unscrupulous businessmen to cash on it by paying less value of the cheque and later cash it from the bank for more profit, it was preferable to the current situation.
He said due to privatisation a lot of players were introduced and they used their own cash payment systems and this had enriched the buying agents who used their discretion to share government bonuses to the farmers.
The National Chief Farmer said that had brought a lot of hardship to the farmers and their families and the only way of solving this problem was for the re-introduction of the cheque system, which would be more beneficial to the farmers.
He said there were over 600,000 farmers registered as members of the association and almost all of them wanted the old system re-introduced because they were better off with that.
For his part, Mr Charles Nyarko from BUSAC said research conducted indicated that the farmers wanted to revert to the old system.
He said researchers visited all the regions to sensitise the farmers and most of them expressed their frustrations at the cash system, claiming that the credit under the current payment system was very expensive than the Akuafo Cheque system.
He said the farmers were able to cultivate banking and saving cultures under the old system
The Deputy National Chief Farmer, Nana Adjei Darkwa, urged all financial institutions to make mobile banking available in all rural areas to enable the farmers to cash their cheques on time and prevent farmers from travelling long distances to cue at the Agricultural Development Bank or the Ghana Commercial Bank before cashing their money.