Richard Asare, the project coordinator, said the major objective of the project is to develop Integrated Soil Fertility Management (ISFM) recommendations that will be integrated into extension messages for cocoa intensification and avoid deforestation.
“This will be done through an integrated ISFM approach that uses a stepwise cocoa intensification process that combines improved planting materials, canopy cover management, and pest and disease control with targeted fertilizer application to enhance sustainability,” Asare explained.
The project is themed, “Sustainable Intensification of Cocoa Production through the Development and Dissemination of Integrated Soil Fertility Management”, and it is a public-private partnership led by IITA, Wageningen University and Research (WUR), Cocoa Research Institutes of Cameroon, Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Nigeria and International Center for Tropical Agriculture, among others.
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Asare noted that the programme currently has eight confirmed trials in Ghana, Cote d’Ivoire, Cameroon and Nigeria, undertaken by CRIN, Cocoa Research Institute of Ghana (CRIG), private chocolate manufacturing companies and others.
Discussions are also underway to conduct similar trials in Ecuador, Brazil and Indonesia with interested partners and stakeholders.
Speaking at the launch, Audu Ogbeh, minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, expressed hopes that the project would serve as investment guide for investors interested in cocoa value chain and improve rural household income.
Ogbeh, who was represented by Lekan Quadri, director of Tree Crop in the ministry, blamed the low profitability in cocoa on low productivity occasioned by poor soil fertility management and other issues.
“Therefore, this project has come at an auspicious time to save our numerous cocoa farmers from colossal losses, whose livelihood depend on this singular commodity,” he said.
Before the discovery of crude oil in commercial volumes in the 1970s, Nigeria was the world’s second largest producer of cocoa but lost ground on declining production from 420,000 tonnes in the ‘60s to 170,000 tonnes in 1999.
Production climbed to 389,272 tonnes between 2000 and 2010, but fell back to 192,000 tonnes in 2015 and 2016. Nigeria now ranks the sixth largest producer.
Mostly carried out by smallscale farmers limited in skills and access to finance and technology, cocoa farming in states including Ondo, Ogun, Osun, Oyo and Ekiti, account for about 60 percent of the cocoa production, making up about 30 percent of Nigeria’s total cocoa.