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‘Bring back cocoa board to revive sector, diversify economy’

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Alhaji Abdulahi Jao, Board Chairman, Cocoa Research Institute of Nigeria (CRIN), Ibadan, identifies challenges of cocoa production and value chain development while suggesting the way forward, among other issues. FEMI IBIROGBA reports.

The cocoa industry is in a shambles despite its contribution to the economy as non-oil earning, and this administration appears to concentrate on food crops. What exactly are you doing on the cocoa industry, especially now that the oil boom era is over?
Ghana has a body that coordinates the A – Z of cocoa production. It is called COCOBOD. This is the pseudonym of Cocoa Board. This our sister country is moving towards 1 million tonnes of cocoa production yearly. Contrarily, Nigeria is struggling with about a quarter of this.

The situation was different in the 60s. Then, Nigeria was the second largest producer of cocoa. Even at the present low level of production, cocoa is the largest foreign exchange contributor to the economy next to oil in Nigeria. The Federal Government is making concerted efforts to revamp agricultural production. It is logical to point out why the government should give due attention to cocoa production. If the country had gone on with the way cocoa was produced in the 60s, Nigeria should, by now, be producing at the same level with Ghana or above.

So, what went wrong?
The world economy-control body, the World Bank, advised the West African countries to scrap their cocoa coordinating bodies in the mid-70s. Nigeria complied hook, line and sinker. Cote d’Ivoire was said not to have complied fully. Ghana rejected the neo-colonial advice. The results are there for all to see today. Those countries that refused the egregious notion are in the millionaire group of global cocoa production today.
We need no soothsayer to divine what went wrong with our country’s cocoa production. So much efforts have been plowed into reviving Nigeria’s cocoa production with little gains.

Why will things not work out now that we claim to be making efforts to diversify through agriculture?
Unfortunately, there are key players in the Nigerian cocoa sector who, for pecuniary gains, want the status quo to continue. This group of stakeholders are not altruistic but majorly selfish. Any true lover of Nigeria knows the logical way out of the dilemma in which we find ourselves.

Nigeria cannot continue to shy away from a coordinating body for her cocoa sector. It is said that he’s a fool who continues to do a thing same way and getting no result. A lot has happened since Nigeria abrogated her Cocoa Board in the mid-70s.

The first adverse effect was poorer quality of Nigerian cocoa. There were thenceforth little or no check on cocoa bean quality in the country. Expired and non-recommended chemicals came to the hands of farmers. This has done so much damage to the goodwill of Nigeria’s cocoa in the international market. It has also lowered the premium placed on our cocoa in the global market. The farmers have become poorer through lowered production, consequent upon this bad agricultural practice.

With no central body, all other Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) became abandoned. The resultant effects remain with us till date. Primary processing within the cocoa value chain from harvesting to bagging of the beans became satiated with unwholesome practices. The normal five-seven-day fermentation was simulated with ludicrous options. Consequently, Nigeria’s cocoa with the best intrinsic qualities among its West African counterparts come out worse when ready for the international market. Farmers training and retraining disorganized, duplicated and disjointed. So many of the intervention activities of foreign donor bodies have in the process achieved little.

What is the role of CRIN in the cocoa efforts?
The Cocoa Research Institute of Nigeria has become largely neglected. This has brought about a high level of restiveness among the staff. Everyone tries to jostle for the peanuts that come in resulting in much bad blood.

In comparison, the Ghana COCOBOD adequately funds cocoa research. It is so much so that the university lecturers desire more to be at the Cocoa Research Institute of Ghana (CRIG). But no scientist in his right senses will opt to leave the university for Cocoa Research Institute of Nigeria.

CRIN has actively canvassed for a laboratory for the production of millions of cocoa plantlets for meager N200 million without success. The Ghana COCOBOD has done this in that country. Cote d’Ivoire receives lots of assistance from France. But CRIN remains like an orphan.

Do you think a cocoa board can actually revive the production?
Nigeria established the Nigerian Cocoa Marketing Board in 1947. It was designed to have special role in the cocoa value chain. Since it was finally phased off, there’s been a downward spiraling of the value chain including research. The last three decades of the 20th Century for instance, were golden for Cocoa Research. Nigerian Cocoa Research Scientists were then the toast among their peers globally. There were mutual exchanges of scientists between CRIN and CRIG. This novel interaction has fizzled out because Nigeria now has little to offer in exchange. The traffic has become one way to Ghana.

It is the Cocoa Board or whatever name it is called that can bring back the glorious days. It will serve as the parent body overseeing all Cocoa matters. With a Cocoa Board, the severally unattended-to issues will begin to receive attention. The old, aging cocoa trees and farmers will be rejuvenated with new/rehabilitated trees and youths, respectively. Farm input supply to farmers at subsidized rates will become relatively more effective. 25. Bank loans will become more accessible to the farmers. Cocoa farming can be better organised as a business rather than an art.

Local processing and consumption, two great essentials towards fair pricing, will awake. Suffice it to say that for over 140 years, the Western country consumers have consistently dictated the price of our cocoa. This is not likely to change soon until we match them with local processing and local consumption. It is then we can become visible in negotiating for fair pricing. Any noise we make now about lopsided pricing will amount to nothing like those before now. The law is straight forward – demand and supply!

Now is the time to take local consumption serious. Research at CRIN has shown evidentially as it is in the literature, that regular consumption of cocoa powder as beverage prevents malaria and diabetes. These are key among our common ailments. Millions of naira are wasted annually on these health conditions. That is not to talk of needless mortalities that trail the diseases.

There is a Cocoa School that teaches the A – Z of cocoa production in Ghana. Nothing stops Nigeria from adopting this initiative. This could be an open door of subsequent own employment for interested Nigerian Youth Corps members. Nigeria cannot continue with an observer status while she’s sitting on gold. She also cannot continue in the dwarf/runt status among her peers who are less endowed.

How can Nigeria move cocoa production forward again?
Any plan towards reviving the production that does not start with a coordinating body would most likely be fruitless. Many countries of the world that are making strides in commodity production have commodity boards. The way Nigeria has focused on other areas of improving her cocoa economy in the last five decades is akin to a saying of our people: It is treating ringworm in a man while ignoring leprosy. The Nigerian Cocoa Sector has lived in the orphanage for too long. It yearns for parental home/care. The home is Cocoa Board.


In this article:
Abdulahi JaoCOCOBODCRIN
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