Abia Cocoa Farms in urgent need for revival, youth participation
Abia State became a major player in Cocoa production during the regime of former State governor, Theodore Orji, now the Senator for Abia Central, during which it placed eighth, among the major Cocoa-producing states, in Nigeria.
It was then that aged Pa David Nnochirionye Onyenweaku, who had 3,000 hectares of the crop, was recognised as the largest Cocoa farmer in the country.
Pa Onyenweaku, who is a native of Umuhute in Umuahia North LGA told The Guardian that he started cocoa farming in 1952 and has since then not engaged in any other trade or business, and that he had decided he would not quit Cocoa farming because it was lucrative.
He recalled that in 2009, when Abia State hosted the sixth Cocoa producing states summit, the participants led by the then Vice President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan visited his farms and thereafter, he was awarded the national honour of Member of the Federal Republic (MFR) by the Federal Government.
He said he was rewarded with a tractor by then former governor Orji, who had sustained his support to Cocoa farming by timely distribution of free Cocoa seedlings to the farmers.
The then Director in the State Agriculture Ministry, in charge of Cocoa, Deacon Sam Odoemenam, now a Permanent Secretary said the quantity of the seedlings distributed free-of-charge to the farmers progressed from 250,000 seedlings in 2010, 300,0000 in 2011, 350,000 in 2012, 400,000 in 2013, while 500,000 were slated for 2014.
Although Pa Onyenweaku described Cocoa farming as lucrative, the same according to him, cannot be said to be same presently and lamented that farm roads have become unmotorable thus making accessibility and harvest evacuation very difficult.
He urged government to revive Coca farming to make it attractive to young people, pointing out that those engaged in it had aged, while youths do not show interest.
He added that from last two years, Cocoa prices fell by about 50 per cent for which he lost N5.6m, stressing that “N20m investment in Cocoa farming, now yielded below N15m returns.”
Corroborating the statement, Odoemenam, who called for re-invigoration of Cocoa farming, said it was in its bid to lure the youths into Cocoa farming that the state government introduced some incentives to the farmers namely; distribution of new seedlings free of charge, provision of opportunity for training and extension of then one billion Central Bank fund released for disbursement to youth farmers, who would engage in Cocoa farming.
Government had also in order to address poor access to the rural farms, as well as engage youths, decided to pay its counterpart funding requirements to the federal government to enable it participate in the Rural Access And Mobility Projects (RAMP), which is aimed at building not less than 500 kilometres of access roads in the state to the benefit of rural youths and farmers and provide access to urban markets.