Heaps of tomatoes harvested from hectares of farmlands in December last year in the Upper East Region are being watched to rot away. This is because target buyers from southern Ghana are not allowed entry into the region until they acquire what traders say is “illegal permit” even at a cost most of them find too much to bear.
Affected farmers have blamed the Ghana National Tomato Traders and Transporters Association for the gross loss. A recent copy of the said permit document stamped with a signature and made available to this paper by the agitated farmers shows that every trader pays two hundred and twenty Ghana cedis (Gh¢ 220) to the association to transport tomatoes from the north to any location in Ghana regardless of the number of the crates and the size of the vehicle. Those who fail to pay the amount are turned away at Babato in the Brong Ahafo Region.
Some of the farmers, who spoke to Savannahnews at Pwalugu in the Talensi District and Kandiga in the Kassena-Nankana West District, say the situation has made life extremely unbearable for their families.
A farmer at Pwalugu, Masawudu Bawa, groaned very loud as he strode legs wide apart across rows of decaying tomatoes on his farm. He threw his arms in the air with swearwords in Hausa, which in translation mean: “We will resort to armed robbery to solve the problem ourselves if government continues to look on. The buses are supposed to be here, buying our tomatoes and not to cross over to Ouagadougou. This association that will not let things be, blocking the road and charging so high. Where do you expect us to convey these tomatoes to? Some of us went for loans to grow these crops and very soon the banks will come running after us. Walahi, that is what we will do! We will rob to pay back those loans.”
The farmers also rubbish claims by detractors that tomatoes from the region are inferior to those produced in Burkina Faso. They say their critics are only interested in crossing the border to smuggle not only fuel but such contrabands as alcohol and marijuana as well. Whilst a number of the farmers are questioning what the monies being collected by the association are used for, some have threatened to resort to armed robbery to pay back the loans sourced from banks if government fails to resolve the problem.
“Since December, these tomatoes got ripe and no car has been coming, all the cars are gone to Burkina Faso. And even most of the buyers, the women, they smuggle things to Burkina Faso to and sell. We use the same seeds for the tomatoes as the Burkinabes and I don’t know the reason why all the cars are passing here and Ghana government is not doing anything to help us. Look at the tomatoes, we are suffering. Even recently we bought a container of tomato seeds about fifty Ghana cedis and fertilizer is costing about seventy Ghana cedis. As we are working, there is no single pesewa in my pocket, you can see all of us here, we don’t have anything,” said Jacob Ayele, a farmer at Kandiga.
“They don’t come here to buy tomatoes. They are taxing the buyers two million and afterwards we don’t know what they use the money for and then the government is doing nothing to them. MOFA, too, is not saying anything about it,” Atubiga Avalum, a farmer at Pwalugu, fumed. “We have our children’s school fees to pay. We have people to feed everyday. We are doing our work on our farms, yet some will block the cars that want to buy from us. The same people will direct the big cars to Burkina Faso, pretending they want to buy tomatoes there, when actually they have smuggled fuel, akpeteshie (alcohol), wee (marijuana) to sell,” he added.
The Upper East Regional Chairman of the Vegetable Farmers Association, Donald Samani, is calling on the Minister of Trade and Industry and the Inspector General of Police to check the activities of the association before things spin out of control.
“We want to appeal to the IGP, Minister for Trade and the Police Commander for Brong Ahafo to check this illegal collection at Babato, where these women have raised illegal barrier. They were settled at Pwalugu in the Upper East Region but upon interrogation they packed off. At first we thought they had proceeded to Paga which is the end of Ghana so that they could make these charges there. But unfortunately today, we have discovered that they have gone to establish this barrier at Babato. We are, therefore, calling for proper investigations into this matter, and we appeal to them to abolish the illegal collection at Babato. I believe this will go a long way to allow the smaller cars that normally buy in the Upper East to proceed to Bolga to buy,” he stressed.
By Edward Adeti