Gold vs Cocoa: The Battle Over West African Natural Resources

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ACCRA, Ghana–A common story is repeating itself across the cocoa heartland of the world, the Ivory Coast and Ghana, as plantation after plantation is discovering the gold mines right beneath their feet.

The cultivation of cocoa has been the main livelihood for the majority of people in both the Ivory Coast and Ghana, the world’s top producer and second largest producer of cocoa respectively. Production in both of these nations accounts for 60 percent of the global supply of cocoa.

With the recent discovery of masses of gold under many of these cocoa plantations, the future of cocoa production is now at stake.

Many farmers are looking to the payout from gold to replace the little amount of money they made harvesting cocoa. One such farmer is Bouafu Kouassi, an Ivory Coast cocoa farmer who discovered traces of gold dust on his shovel one day.

The discovery has since transformed his life. Kouassi’s plantation has nearly three dozen vertical shafts plunging into the soil, beneath which is a web of underground tunnels leading to gold. Within weeks, he has pocketed the amount of money that had taken him five years to earn on the cocoa plantation.

Kouassi is convinced that his cocoa plantation will be revitalized once the mining is complete, but this has not been the case for nearby farmers. Where there was once a booming cocoa plantation, now lies 300 empty mine shafts filled with toxic soil due to the cyanide and mercury that the miners used to extract gold from the ore.

Although each individual farmer may not be prospering, gold mining is doing wonders for the local economy. In the town of Zahibo, for example, between 30 and 35 kgs of gold are collected each week to be shipped off to various destinations. This amount translates to $500,000 injected into the local economy.

Each farmer alone extracts an average of $200 worth of gold each day, translating to $72,00 per year. This is 36 times what they were earning when exporting cocoa.

No wonder gold mining has become such a hit.

The governments of both the Ivory Coast and Ghana have also pushed farmers towards gold mining. In the Ivory Coast, the government has been expelling farmers from plantations that were illegally established during the Coast’s decade-long political crisis. In Ghana, the government has been phasing out subsidies for pesticides and fertilizers, leading many to believe that cocoa production within the country will plunge.

There are many however, who have expressed great concern over the threat of gold mining replacing cocoa plantations.

In Ghana, a group of villages from the Western Region, which is a predominantly cocoa-growing district, has appealed to the government to formulate a policy that will prohibit mining concessions on cocoa farms across the country. It has become a common occurrence for the government to grant mining concessions on cocoa plantations, depriving many Ghanaians of their livelihoods.

With the appeal came a number of complaints from local farmers. Egya Kwesi Nda of one of the villages claimed that the government was paying too little for each cocoa tree destroyed and that the amount would not sustain their families. He added, “Cocoa trees could sustain us for over 30 years and even benefit our future generations.”

There are a number of forces and players at work in this complex economic and political struggle. The voices of the people need to be heard before any positive change can be had.

Sources: Reuters, Ghana News Agency, Daily Bhaskar

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