To convince cocoa farmers to adopt the liquid Lithovit Foliar fertiliser procured from Agricult Ghana Limited, farmers were falsely told that the fertiliser will double their yields when properly applied on their farms, Chief Inspector Thomas Prempeh Mercer, the principal investigator in the trial of Dr Stephen Opuni and Mr Seidu Agongo told the court today.
The Chief Inspector said in the cause of the investigation into the conduct of the former Chief Executive of COCOBOD (Dr Opuni), it became necessary to talk to farmers about their experiences using the fertiliser and that is when they found that farmers were assured of a two-fold increase in yields, which eventually turned out to be a deception.
The deceit is also confirmed by the official figures released by COCOBOD for the season the fertiliser was introduced. The figures showed that there was a decline in Ghana’s cocoa production in the 2014/2015 crop year by GH₵155,965.57; down from GH₵896.219.63 in the season before to GH₵740,254.06.
Several farmers also complained to COCOBOD’s internal investigation committee and investigators from the Economic and Organised Crime Office (EOCO) that the Lithovit Foliar fertiliser was inefficient. Some of the farmers said the fertiliser was like water.
The Prosecution, through earlier witnesses, has submitted evidence to the court to support the fact that the fertiliser which was supplied to COCOBOD by Mr Seidu Agongo’s company, Agricult Ghana Limited, contained almost no active ingredients at all.
Dr Alfred Arthur, the third witness for the State, and the Acting Head of the Soil Science Division at the Cocoa Research Institute of Ghana (CRIG) – the body in charge of testing agrochemicals for COCOBOD – testified that Lithovit Foliar fertilizers should contain particular kinds of chemicals (plant nutrients) and in particular quantities to support plant growth.
However, upon conducting tests in 2017, on a sample of the Lithovit fertilizers supplied by Agricult Ghana Limited to COCOBOD, it was found that the fertilizer only contained minute amounts of the expected chemicals. The product supplied to COCOBOD had been heavily adulterated and rendered unfit for use as fertiliser.
He said the absence of adequate amounts of the active ingredients in the products went undetected for years because scientists and technical officers at CRIG were prevented from conducting field tests until the time of Dr Opuni as Chief Executive of COCOBOD was over.
Besides the alleged procurement process violation in buying the Lithovit Foliar fertiliser from Agricult Ghana Limited and the controversy around the physical state of the fertiliser (solid or liquid), another contention between the two sides in the trial is about the efficacy of the fertiliser and that is key to the charge of wilfully causing financial loss to the state to the tune of GHS271.3 million.
The two accused persons, Dr Stephen Kwabena Opuni and Mr Seidu Agongo, deny any wrongdoing and have pleaded not guilty to all 27 charges brought against them by the State; which include defrauding by false pretences, wilfully causing financial loss to the state, money laundering, corruption by a public officer and acting in contravention of the Public Procurement Act.