The Cross River State government has set up a task force to recover over N700m owed by cocoa farmers in the last four years.
Acting chairman, Cocoa Board in the state, Dr. Oscar Ofuka, who disclosed this on Tuesday in Calabar, during an interaction with journalists after inspection of the demonstration farm at Cross River Radio, said it is worrisome that cocoa farmers had refused to pay for lands allotted to them for farming.
Ofuka maintained that cocoa estate farms were no longer going to be treated as a political largesse, as the government had concluded plans to regenerate the farms with improved varieties.
He said: “It is unfortunate that people take up the farms, harvest the produce and walk away with the proceeds without paying the contract sum
“This is bad, especially now that the state government is looking for money to regenerate and rehabilitate the farms which have become moribund. The farmers who have been working in the farms have not paid for four years.
“State government is no longer going to take it lightly with those defaulting. Those in charge of the farms have cheated government in the last four years,” Ofuka added.
Ofuka, who is an immediate past Special Adviser to Governor Ben Ayade of Cross River State, urged the small-holder farmers and all the political contractors owing the government to vacate the farms or risk prosecution.
He said the government had constituted a task force in collaboration with landlord communities to assist the board to recover the debt owed the state government so as to enable the state government to pay a royalty to the host communities.
According to him, the board under his watch will realise from the farm for regeneration and rehabilitation so as to create employment opportunity for the army of unemployed youths.
“Cocoa is a new gold mine; our brand is organic, with a better flavour. It’s the reason why the state government acquired 38,000 hectares of land in Akim Osobam community, Akamkpa LGA of the state to cultivate the crop.”
The acting chairman averred that the state government had commenced the process of crushing 120 metro tones annually to feed the ultra-modern cocoa factory undergoing construction in Ikom LGA of the state.
He said that one of the policy thrusts of state government is to surpass the quantity produced by Cote d’ Ivoire and Ghana in years to come.