Drop in cocoa production linked to government’s theoretical policies
As Nigeria Drops To Seventh Position In Cocoa Production, According To International Cocoa Organisation, OLUWASEUN AKINGBOYE in Akure, Takes A Look At The Situation In Ondo State, Nigeria’s Foremost Cocoa Producing State.
Government: We Are Making Steady Progress
Despite efforts by Ondo State government through its Cocoa Revolution Project (CRP) to boost Cocoa production, stakeholders and farmers in the state have faulted the approaches of the state government as ineffective.
They described the approaches by other cocoa producing states, as responsible for the drop in the production. They lamented that government is taking sole responsibilities through its agencies to take up cocoa farming, leaving most of the commercial farmers out of the new drive without adequate encouragement, incentives and other wherewithal that can make cocoa farming attractive.
Mr. Tope Fayehun, whose major family occupation is cocoa farming, noted that government has been unable to address the massive exodus of young people from the rural areas, where cocoa farming is the mainstay before the oil boom.
Fayehun added that a large percentage of cocoa farmers who often benefit from government intervention in the cities are businessmen and influential politicians, emphasising that such financial grants, if ever made available by government, are diverted into other businesses that bring quicker profits.
He pointed out that those traditional cocoa farmers still in the business do not have the capacity because they are old folks who are fast becoming too old and weak for serious farming business at commercial quantity, let alone international competition.
“Hardly will you ever find the youths on cocoa farms, everybody is in the city looking for quick money. They don’t actually have the patience to wait for the full maturity of cocoa; other things in the cities are more attractive than to waste long years watching the seeds germinate, grow, weed the plantation before they start producing,” he said.
On this note, the young farmers, under the aegis of Ondo State Agricultural Commodities Association (OSACA) decried the disposition of government towards agriculture in the state, declaring that its empowerment programmes are merely theoretical without adequate impact on the youths.
The President of Youth Directorate of OSACA, Mr. Samuel Oludare, complained that youths are left out of policy formulation, as well as expected in the implementation when they are needed to achieve goals.
Oludare, who affirmed that any serious country ought to depend on its youth population, pointed out that huge sum of money had been spent on agriculture by various levels of government, but with very little effect, saying that agriculture-minded youths still abound and who are ready to turn things around in the sector if government will listen and attend to them.
Another member of the OSACA Youth Directorate, Mr. Akinbode Akinmeye, said the downward slope in cocoa production shouldn’t have been so if government at all levels had been sincere with policies.
Akinmeye said government has announced several intervention programmes and schemes in agriculture but “the effect of empowerment in agriculture are not felt because the policies and implementation do not capture real youth interested in the sector.”
A young OSACA farmer, Mr. Bankole Anifowose, said; “I believe if we put more practical approach into cocoa farming and other agricultural produce, it will definitely get better. If we practicalise them, there will be enough food and means of livelihood for the people in the state. The economy of the state will be boosted through agriculture.
Anifowose also pointed out that if government and other agricultural agencies had set up a produce board where most of the cocoa farmers can deposit their produce, they can be assured and be at peace with themselves that there is a projection to make profit and not run at loss.
“They can go back to farm and farm consistently. This will lead to consistent production because they no longer have problem of how to market, sell and the fear of their products getting spoilt; the numbers of farmers will increase and the economy will continue to boom.
A Consultant to OSACA, Dr. Ayodeji Badejo, disclosed that a lot of youth farmers are hardworking and yearning for expansion, but stressed that government policies are not prompting them to utilise their potentials in the sector.
Badejo, who mentioned that the association has organised series of fora to sensitise youths and chart a way forward for a brighter future in agriculture, also pressed for a standard selling point for farm produce so that middlemen will not be gaining at the expense of the farmers.
While a cocoa merchant in Idanre, Ishola Raheem, said many of the cocoa farms in that axis have been neglected and poorly managed, he said some government and private agencies from the cities do come to organise seminars for them, but they often renege on pledges to help them with farm supplements.
The state Commissioner for Youths and Sport, Mr. Dayo Awude, said the state has embarked on series of intervention programmes that are youth-centred, referring to the agro-preneurs working under the state Wealth Creation Agency (WECA) and the CRP. He promised that the state government would continue to play its roles in making sure that youths are meaningfully engaged.
Meanwhile, Governor Olusegun Mimiko-led administration has made efforts to resuscitate the farm settlements inherited from the Western Region across the state, by rehabilitating the Oda Settlement and Cocoa Catalytic Industry, Idanre as production and processing hubs for cocoa beans produced across the state.
The CRP Chairman, Dr. Jibayo Oyebade, noted that the major steps taken was to ensure that all the cocoa beans produced in the state attain a premium rate, which would increase the value in the international market.
The cocoa revolution, as said by Oyebade, is per hectare, where 1,100 seedlings will be planted per hectare at spacing of three meters on line and three meters between the lines, adding that the Oda Cocoa Plantation, which was established in 1954 by Chief Awolowo, has 1,744 hectares, according to report got from the archives in Ibadan.
He disclosed further that the most important aspect in the revolution drive is the commencement of fruiting the beans from the newly planted trees on the state cocoa plantation, which is about 156,000 hectares, though most of the reserves had been encroached upon.
The premium rating, according to him, is to have improvement on poor quality produced by farmers due to long years of abandonment that caused them to suffer 100 per cent reduction in the open market, which can be reversed through the introduction of acceptable, practical and sustainable termed “X Premium” cocoa beans for export.
“This is a special premium that you can produce any chocolate with. This was the main reason our first chocolate product participated in the last chocolate outing in UK, where 502 chocolate products all over the world gathered for laboratory test, bud test, quality control test and we came second out of 502 chocolate samples.
“So, here in the revolution, we are armed to attest that our cocoa product in Ondo State is the best quality cocoa for the world market,” he emphasised, saying CRP is getting ready for 16 tons of high quality premium, adding that Ondo is going to be the first state in Nigeria to produce beans directly from single estate chocolate.”
The CRP chairman said 10 processing centres have been established in the Ondo central senatorial district, where the cocoa beans come in large quantity and volumes from their various farms and plantations.
He listed some of the requirements and conditions for producing quality cocoa beans as spelt out in the State Produce Law of 2006, which specifies that cocoa farmers must ferment their beans and that they must not move ungraded cocoa out of the state.
“Farmers must obey certain rules. Don’t allow cocoa to touch the surface of the earth or concrete when you are fermenting. The first critical hazard control is to make sure that the cocoa is not fermented on the floor of the earth or concrete.
“This is not to allow the heat being generated by cocoa beans to be lost to mother earth because scientifically, heat is transferred to the sand and will make the cocoa to lose its aroma. This must be adhered to strictly to get the best of cocoa output.
“They can use elephant grass on the floor and should be about six inches from the surface of the floor before spreading your cocoa; this system produces the best of aroma,” he said.
The Deputy Governor of the state, Alhaji Abdulazeez Oluboyo, who until his appointment last year April was the commissioner in charge of agriculture, said there is a noticeable improvement in cocoa revolution in the state from what it used to be before the present administration came to power in 2009.