Farmers in the Western region say it is sweet surrender to give up their farms to ‘big-money’ buyers interested in exploiting it for gold.
The farmers in the Wassa Amenfi East District of the region maintain that the ‘golden pod’ – cocoa – no longer provides economic returns worth their time and energy.
A farmer, Kwesi Nyarko, told Radio Maxx’ Francis Whajaah after years of cocoa farming, paying school fees is still a headache.
“I have not been able to put up a single room all these years after farming”, he said after he sold off a portion of his land for GHC30,000.
A land with higher prospect for gold can go for GHC40,000 while lower prospects go for 10,000 cedis, Francis Whajaah has found out. The farmers determine the prospect by examining the distance between the lands and the nearest gold mining site.
Kwesi Narko rationalised that as a farmer with 20 acres cocoa lands, he has had to struggle for fertilisers for his farms.
He says he last got 18 bags of cocoa fertiliser but pointed to some others who got as much as 100 bags of fertilizer except – they have no cocoa farms.
The fertilizer politicization in the cocoa sector is part of the reasons why he is gradually hanging his farming boots for a one-off buy-out of his cocoa lands.
The capitulation in the face of Chinese cash has seen a disturbing destruction of cocoa farms to the more rewarding work of finding gold.
And gold is rewarding. In 2015, gold brought in $4.33 billion. Cocoa beans grossed $1.98b. And so it appears, a golden stone is better than a golden pod.
Eager to share in this revenue going to government, foreign nationals have descended on Ghana’s forests, farm lands and river bodies in a madrush for gold.
Lands and Natural Resources Minister has revealed the country lost 2.3 billion dollars’ worth of gold through illegal mining popularly known as galamsey.
Finding willing collaborators from the corridors of power to the bushy paths in farms, this subversion of the land is coming at great ecological loss.
In Ghana, it appears economy is more important than ecology and so destruction of the environment appears not to be an alarming reason to halt illegal mining.
But the danger from ecological destruction has escalated to a sanitation crisis. Rivers are now too polluted to serve as sources of water for water treatment plants.
The rivers, hitherto white have now turned into a colour too harmful to contemplate drinking. Gold is a good colour for jewellery but a cancerous colour for drinking.
And so in the Eastern region where river Tano is found, water is fast becoming a scarce commodity in surrounding communities.
The action of government agencies in dealing with the menace is few and far between.
A taskforce to crack down galamsey in 2013 is believed to have grounded to a halt for political reasons.
But only last Friday, some 10 Chinese were arrested by police in Takoradi in the Western region, accused of engaging in illegal mining.
Arraigned Monday at a District court, Francis Whajah says there is huge public and media interest in what becomes of the accused persons.
“Virtually every journalist in Western region was in court today” he said and added, it is because “virtually every river in the Western region has been polluted”
The case is seen as a test case for government in its stated commitment to fight galamsey.
While the courts try the foreign nationals, a delegation from the Chinese Embassy have called on the Lands and Natural Resources minister John Peter Amewu to discuss illegal and small scale mining.
While the take-over of cocoa farms in the Wassa Amenfi East District is peaceful even if detrimental, the take-over of cocoa farms in Goaso in the Asunafo North Municipality of the Brong Ahafo Region is nothing short of violence.
In a classical case of ‘if persuasion fails, force must be applied’, galamsey operators there have destroyed three cocoa-growing communities – Manukrom, Atoom and Tipokrom.
Moving clandestinely and under the cover of darkeness, the powerful aggressors for gold raze farms. The farmers are incensed yet helpless, shocked yet falling short of mounting any worthwhile resistance.
They have threatened to burn down their farms in protest of weak government response just as a Tunisian burnt himself in protest over harsh economic conditions. It triggered what is known as the Arab Spring.
It remains to be seen what will trigger a marked response from government in this galamsey menace.