- Farmers, stakeholders on production plunge
Nigeria’s leading agricultural export and cash crop, cocoa, has suffered a major setback as the commodity witnessed a shortfall while West African contenders in the cocoa export business, Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana, are enjoying a boom despite possessing lesser numbers of production hectares compared to Nigeria.
The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (UNFAO) lists Nigeria as the fourth highest producer of cocoa behind Indonesia, and the two West African countries. The National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) in its assessment of the Top Products by Imports and Exports Q1,2020 rated Cocoa as Nigeria’s second highest foreign exchange earner after crude oil, an indication that cocoa is still a very significant export product of Africa’s most populous nation and the continent’s largest by gross domestic products (GDP). Cultivated on an estimated 800,000 hectares of land, Nigeria’s cocoa production makes up five per cent of global production.
Having a reputation of being the largest economy in Africa and the 27th largest in the world in terms of nominal Gross Domestic Product (GDP), it was always thought that Nigeria’s cocoa production would experience a boom in the world market, but the reverse has been the case as production dropped from 300,000 to 245,000 metric tonnes while Ghana, a much smaller country in terms of population and landmass recorded an increase from 812,000 to 850,000 metric tonnes.
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Providing reasons for Nigeria’s production decline, Abdulahi Jao, board chairman, Cocoa Research Institute of Nigeria (CRIN), explained that the World Bank had advised West African countries to scrap cocoa coordinating bodies in the mid-70s and Nigeria fully complied. Nigeria’s compliance, however, led to a negative result while the refusal of Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire to comply has fostered a positive result. Jao recommended the revival of a national board and regional cocoa production marketing boards as the scrapping of such boards was a mistake that the country must address.
Malachy Akoroda, a former executive director of CRIN, called for investments in production of seedlings of disease-resistant and improved hybrids developed by the institute.
Adeola Adegoke, president, Cocoa Farmers Association of Nigeria, admitted that the drop in cocoa production in the country is a result of some underlying factors and challenges that include limited access to improved cocoa seedlings, finance, agro chemicals and manpower. On the way forward, he said that the Central Bank of Nigeria is in partnership with the association, through the Anchor Borrowers’ scheme, to revive the Cocoa Transformation Agenda introduced by former President Goodluck Jonathan in 2012. A total of 160,000 cocoa farmers were registered under the National Farmers Database Platform to help the government determine the actual number of farmers that would benefit from the Growth Enhancement Scheme Support to Nigerian cocoa farmers.
Adegoke also gave the assurance that there are ongoing plans to ensure that the first batch of farmers benefit from the scheme very soon. The Cocoa Farmers Association comprises over 90 percent of small-scale cocoa farmers, stakeholders and farm owners in the country.
Folorunsho Quadri, an investor in the cocoa business, noted that some of the reasons for the lamentable cocoa yields in Nigeria can be blamed on the low numbers of youths actively engaged in cocoa farming. “There is no way cocoa can generate high yields if the youths who possess the physical attributes for cocoa planting and harvesting have a minimal participation.” he said. He also identified an insufficient quantity and quality of agrochemicals needed to eradicate cocoa pests and diseases as one of the factors responsible for the shortfall in cocoa production. He, however, said the cocoa business is not dead and with structural adjustments, the level of production will increase.
Akinsanya Michael, a cocoa farmer in Ondo State told Business A.M. that the covid-19 pandemic is partly responsible for the decline in production. He also explained that the ageing of numerous cocoa trees also resulted in low harvest as ageing trees are bound to produce lesser yields. He opined that that things might be different if the Ministry of Agriculture, as well as financial institutions, can support the farmers with funds and loan acquisitions to help in the provision of mechanised tools, purchase of chemicals to kill the pests destroying some of the crops. He spoke of the need for extension services as well, to enable the cocoa farmers to get updated with modern cocoa farming practices and information.
Another cocoa farmer who chose to speak under anonymity disclosed that many youths of the present generation have abandoned cocoa production activities in search of white collar jobs and other business ventures. He suggested that the government has to set up agricultural agencies and institutions to sensitise the youths on the value of cocoa production. He also asked the government to consider creating massive employment opportunities in the sector as this will encourage more participation of the youths.
A 2019 research conducted by analysts in the South-West region where the crop is majorly grown reported that more than 80% of the farmers possessed over 10 years of technical expertise in the usage of resources but there was a constraint in the number of available resources. The research stated that the education of farmers and adaptation of progressive farming practices is required. It also recommended sustained improvements by planting younger trees to replace aging ones and ensure technical efficiency.
Ondo state is currently the largest cocoa producing state in Nigeria. Other states having cocoa as a major product are Cross River, Ogun, Akwa Ibom, Ekiti, Osun, Oyo and Delta, which are located in the southern part of Nigeria. Kwara, Taraba, Nasarawa,Kogi,Benue and Zamfara also produce cocoa in the northern part of the country, albeit in little quantity.