The Government of Cross River State has set up a task force to recover over N700 million from smallholder cocoa farmers in the state.
The Acting Chairman of the state Cocoa Board, Dr. Oscar Ofuka, disclosed this on Monday while inspecting the high yield cocoa demonstration farm in Calabar.
“The smallholder scheme appears not to be working because, for the past eight years, government attention has not been focused on the scheme. Farmers in Etung and Ikom estates have not done their bit. They have not paid government fees for a period of four years,” he said.
According to him, “If you have not paid government fees for four years, how do we rehabilitate the estates? The tenure of these farmers in Etung had expired two years ago and the governor had revoked these farms. The farmers had cheated the government for four years. And so with the revocation of the governor and the fact that the governor had asked that we completely overhaul the sector, we are trying to ensure that only those who have paid government fees remain in their farms.
“Cocoa will no longer be treated like a political largesse where it is given out for purpose of support for election and all that. It is now strictly business. If you put together what they are owing for four years, it is almost N600m to N700m. His excellency has given them several years and they have not been able to pay. A task force is in place. We have also constituted a state revenue court. We are going to be very civil in collecting this money. There is no going back.
Of late, they are forging clearance certificate. They are also going into the plantation to harvest cocoa at night. We want to use this opportunity to change things for the better. We have to recover the money so that we can pay the landlord communities who have not been paid royalty for some time now.”
He said with the free hand given to the board, the old moribund cocoa estate in Ikom will be rehabilitated and enough cocoa bean would be produced from the high yield variety just introduced to feed the cocoa industry in Ikom and create employment and make the economy of the state better.