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The leadership of Ghana Cocoa Board (COCOBOD) and their Ivorian counterparts on the Conseil du Café-Cacao have rejected a proposal to subscribe to ISO (International Organisation for Standardisation) certification.

The leadership of Ghana Cocoa Board (COCOBOD) and their Ivorian counterparts on the Conseil du Café-Cacao have rejected a proposal to subscribe to ISO (International Organisation for Standardisation) certification.

The Daily Statesman understands that the proposal was initiated by the chocolate processing companies.

But the authorities in charge of cocoa production in the two largest cocoa-producing countries in the world say subscribing to ISO certification will worsen the already challenged situation of their farmers.

Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire have held a series of meetings following the announcement by the presidents of both countries that their cocoa management authorities will collaborate to find lasting measures that will improve the condition of cocoa farmers, and ensure the sustainability of the cocoa industry.

Bad ruling

A senior source at COCOBOD told the Daily Statesman yesterday that a critical scrutiny of ISO 34101 proves that certain clauses enshrined in the standards will be inimical to the interests of cocoa farmers in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana.

For instance, the standards require farmers to be entrepreneurs, even though they do not necessarily have business acumen or the capacity to obtain bank loans.

This, COCOBOD officials fear, “will allow the financial providers the opportunity to take over the lands of our farmers if they are not able to repay the loans”.

It is also feared that the standards will impose requirements which could impoverish the farmers because some of the clauses are difficult to implement, given their “alien nature to practical cocoa farming”.

It is also feared that the standards will weaken the regulatory powers of COCOBOD and its Ivorian counterpart by allowing external bodies to take over control of the cocoa sector. It is these external bodies which, under the new standards, will regulate the activities of cocoa organisations.

Development plan

Under the standards, there must be development of what is called the Cocoa Farm Development Plan (CFDP).

The fear is that the workload involved is too much and beyond the ordinary farmer. The CFDP must be developed and assessed for each farm every year. A farmer’s registration can be either confirmed or terminated within three months of assessment.

The audit process is laborious and complicated. The farmers must know the standards inside out, apply them to the letter and develop very good record management to be able you meet the requirements.

Documentation is key to passing the audit. This will be paid for by the farmer. A farmer will not be paid a premium if he fails the audit, the effort and hard work he puts into producing sustainable cocoa notwithstanding.

Own standards

In view of this, Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire have decided to put the ISO certification on hold. The two countries say they would rather continue to develop their own standards, which will take into account the interests of all stakeholders in the cocoa value chain.

This was announced at the signing of a declaration and joint press conference in Abidjan. The press conference was addressed by the chief executive of Ghana Cocoa Board, Joseph Boahen Aidoo, and the director general of the Conseil du Café-Cacao, Yves Ibrahim Koné.

Mr Boahen Aidoo said that neither country is opposed to setting standards for the cocoa industry. Their problem is that the provisions in the proposed ISO certification do not take into account the peculiar needs of cocoa farmers and how they operate.

“The implementation of the standards will only bring untold hardship to our farmers, and so we are ready for it,” he said.

Mr Boahen Aidoo explained that a situation where farmers are supposed to prepare CFDPs and their operating documents, which will be audited at a cost to the farmer, “is a proposal that is not workable within the context of farming in Ghana presently”.

He particularly questioned why such a cost should be passed on to the already impoverished farmer. “The world market price of cocoa is already making life difficult to the farmer and you want to introduce programmes that will meet expectations of the consumer and further worsen the life of the farmer,” he said.