90 year-old Abia cocoa farmer, others lament ageing workforce
Cocoa farming has remained a very lucrative business in Abia State, attracting investors, which has continue to boost the Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) of the state, since it joined major players in the sector for 15 years
Ranked number eight then, among the 14 major Cocoa-producing states, Abia produced the largest Cocoa farmer in Nigeria, Chief David Nnochirionye Onyenweaku, who started Cocoa farming in 1952.
The 90 year-old farmer explained that he had over 3,000 hectares of Cocoa farm and had not engaged in any other business, having considered no other business more lucrative than Cocoa farming.
He said incentives and support by Federal and state government added to the sustainability of his farm. Recalling that after the former President Goodluck Jonathan visited his farms when the state hosted the sixth Cocoa producing states summit in 2009, he was honored with the national honour of Member of the Federal Republic (MFR).
Beside the honour, he was also given a Tractor by the then governor, Chief Theodore Orji, who he said sustained support to Cocoa farming, including timely distribution of free Cocoa seedlings to the farmers, which led to rise of seedlings from 250,000 in 2010 to 300,0000 in 2011, 350,000 in 2012, 400,000 in 2013 with 500,000 for 2014.
He however, said farmers are aging now, while the younger generation are not showing interest, adding that it is becoming difficult to access farmlands because roads have become dilapidated and unmotorable, a scenario affecting harvest evacuation.
Onyenweaku’s experience does not differ from that of Chief Okereke Ogbonna, another Cocoa farmer of over 20 years, who is also the State Chairman of Cocoa Farmers Association of Nigeria (CAN).
His words “Cocoa farming remains highly lucrative, but the output is not encouraging, despite that, farmers are still in it. There are two issues that affect cocoa farming and its output. They are change of weather and absence of government support, including high cost of acquiring land. Cocoa farming requires large expanse of suitable land that is not easy to procure.”
According to him, the former President Olusegun Obasanjo-era boosted Cocoa farming in many ways. One of such, is the establishment of National Cocoa Development Committee (NCDC), which had its membership drawn from the 14 Cocoa producing states, which comprised agriculture commissioners, members of CAN, while each state committee was headed by its deputy governor.
“The basic aim of the NCDC was to increase Cocoa output, which became tremendous, as seedlings and chemicals were made available to farmers at subsidised rates. Even in Abia State, there was reasonable increase in production as the state government also assisted them.”
He said after the NCDC, Obasanjo introduced National Cocoa Transformation Committee (NCTC), which had as its major players-CAN, Cocoa Growers Association of Nigeria (COGAN) and Cocoa Farmers Association of Nigeria (CFAN).
“To reinvigorate Cocoa farming, we have to revisit these Obasanjo programmes on Cocoa. Farmers were even sponsored by the Federal Government to Ghana to study Ghana’s Cocoa production technique.”
He said that after oil, cocoa is the second largest revenue earner for the country and states, in view of the fact that states earn revenue as cocoa-grading fees.
On how new entrants should begin, he cited land acquisition as a problem, but advised they begin somewhere and advance gradually, noting that many hectares of land, including funds are required.
At the Ministry of Agriculture, it was gathered that government has commissioned the registration of all genuine cocoa farmers in the state, with a view to determining the number that would benefit from its planned yet to be announced incentive packages.
According to chairman of the state All Farmers Association of Nigeria (AFAN), Chief Dunlop Okoro, he stressed the need for government to give incentive, push, impetus and tangible support to farmers.