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Cocoa rebirth

Enterprise Issues

With Siaka Momoh

This story is sourced from Achives Siaka-Momoh

 We had it so good with cocoa in the past, just like we did well with some other agricultural commodities like palm oil, and cotton.  But at a point, there was neglect. Our love for crude oil bestowed on us the rent economy. Nigerians came to love big and quick business. Before we knew it, the cocoa trees had aged producing fewer beans. We could cut down old trees and replant, planting new breed seedlings that would grow faster and produce more tonnage per hectare of land.

Thank God, we knew better latter. Cocoa rebirth programme was launched by the Federal Government in 2005 by the Olusegun Obasanjo administration. Worried about the deteriorating status of cocoa in Nigeria, a product that was one of the frontline cash crops Nigeria depended on largely in the past, the Federal Government floated the National Cocoa Development Programme. This programme aimed at reviving and restoring cocoa production and marketing in Nigeria to its past glory.  That year, the 14 cocoa producing States raised a total of 5.9 million seedlings which could plant 5,454 hectares of new cocoa farm and were distributed free of charge to farmers. Old plantations were also rehabilitated through the application of agrochemicals and better husbandry practices.

In order to sustain and improve on these performances, Mr. President launched a special programme tagged “Cocoa Rebirth” in Ibadan, Oyo State in order to create awareness of the wealth creation potentials of  cocoa, promote increase in production, attract youth into cocoa cultivation, and help raise funds for the development of the industry. The Ibadan event was replicated in Yola, Adamawa State.  As a follow-up to this, a National Cocoa Day was fixed for every second week of February, flagged off in 2006.

Cocoa rebirth may have been successful after all, what with a record production figure of 500,000 tonnes in 2007, according to a BGL Agriculture Report.  This figure, one must say, is suspect (bloated). May be the explanation for this may be to admit that leakages accounted for the possible excess figure. The report also stated that in 2009, it was announced that cocoa producing states increased from 14 that it was earlier in the year to 20, although 80 per cent of production output recorded came from five traditionally advantaged states.

As the cocoa rebirth policy incentives took hold, according to the report, the industry attracted greater private sector participation in three to five years. It is however regrettable that the alarming analysis reiterated the underlying structural deficiency which is the fact that a Nigerian chocolate industry is non-existent as a result of many years of structural weakness particularly transport and electricity.

 “Although recent reforms have sought to address these problems, the long-term actions have been weakly implemented. It is noteworthy that the surge in the financial markets in 2006/2007 fed into successful capital raising for top local grinding companies like Multi-Trex Plc and FTN Cocoa Processors,” the report said. 

 In an exclusive interview with this writer years back, the Ondo State Commissioner for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forest Resources then , Jibayo Oyebade  said,  “There is no cocoa rebirth in place yet(Ondo State accounts for about two-thirds of cocoa production in Nigeria. To give new life to cocoa, you need to start from the farm. And cocoa rebirth is not distribution of seedlings. The first thing to do is actual rehabilitation. Cocoa rebirth has not started at all, this is personal to me.

“ For me, cocoa rebirth  is clearing to reduce heating, hard pruning to determine canopy, then replanting of seedlings and replanting of seedlings must be backed with the first dry season watering. That is the only time we can have survival rate that is high.”

 He said “There is no feedback statistics on the mortality rate of the seedlings given out, that he could recall his Governor asking him what the value addition on product increase these seedlings being provided would account for. I gave reasons to support that it is Government that will go into replanting. I told him Farmers Congress tonnage on cocoa, that is rebate, should be increased to contribute to fund for development of cocoa. Government should push good money into it, and for life cocoa will continue to be in demand since consumption rate will continue to increase.”

 The first step in cocoa rebirth, according to Oyebade is rehabilitation. “It is a good idea.  For me, they have not started at all. Copper sulphate is not rebirth, seedlings supply is not up to 10 per cent of cocoa rebirth. There is no statistics to tell us how much value the supply of a particular tonnage of seedlings has added to cocoa production.”

 Meanwhile, according to the former International Cocoa Organisation (ICCO) Executive Director Jan Vingerhoets, with good extension services, worldwide average cocoa yield per kilogramme can be increased by 150 per cent. Average cocoa yields worldwide are around 600 kg per hectare, higher than the 500 kg/ha average of the 1970s but a fraction of the 1,000-1,500 kg/ha levels researchers had found were possible with good extension services, Vingerhoets said.

 “It should be possible to produce much more cocoa on a much smaller area of land. However, if successful, that could easily result in a considerable overproduction, with a disastrous effect on prices and thus on the incomes of the cocoa farmers.”

“Diversification could prevent overproduction of cocoa and diversify the income sources of the farm families. In the case of Cote d’Ivoire, I would, for example, think of products such as rice, rubber and palm oil as options for diversification,” he said. Many cocoa farming families in West Africa, which produces the overwhelming majority of the world’s cocoa, live below the poverty line, Vingerhoets told  a workshop, which was focusing on the use of child labour on cocoa farms.

The present administration’s agriculture Transformation Agenda is furthering cocoa rebirth. It calls it Cocoa Transformation Agenda. The team leader, Cocoa Value Chain Development of the Agricultural Transformation Agenda, Dr. Peter Aikpokpodion has noted that the cocoa transformation agenda of the Federal Government has a target of doubling cocoa production in the country from 250,000 metric tons in 2011 to 500,000 metric tons by 2015. This is more like it.

As part of efforts to attain this objective, Aikpokpodion revealed, the Government plans to set up a Cocoa Corporation which will be burdened with the responsibility of addressing all issues relating to the production and marketing of the commodity in the country. “Once the Cocoa Corporation becomes operational this year, it is expected to facilitate the increase of production to the targeted 500,000 metric tons by 2015”, Aikpokpodion said.

According  him,  “In 2012, Nigeria had an increase in production as the record provided by the Federal Produce Inspection Service domiciled with the Federal Ministry of Trade and Investment, captured the figure of cocoa export as amounting to 300,000 metric tons. It also gave us a figure of 350,000 metric tons as of July 2013” .For him, the increased production is as a result of the Cocoa Growth Enhancement Scheme (GES) which he said is different from the regular GES for other aspects of agriculture, as it is tailored to meet the critical input needs of cocoa farmers – such as agro-chemicals to counter black pod diseases, insect that attack the pods and also fertilizer to make sure the cocoa trees produce well.

“A study carried out recently shows that not many Nigerian farmers use fertilizer but I can tell you that last year, we succeeded for the first time to introduce a specifically formulated fertilizer for cocoa” he said, while lamenting that at 350,000 metric  tons, Nigeria is well behind Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire, in terms of production.

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