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‘Seedlings, production techs impeding Nigeria’s cocoa industry’

By Femi Ibirogba, Head, Agro-Economy
15 March 2021   |   4:22 am
Apart from neglect of agricultural infrastructure by the government, non-availability of improved high-yielding cocoa seedlings, scarcity of other inputs such as agro-chemicals, old production technologies and climate change ...

Cocoa plantation. PHOTO: Google image

• Association calls for coordinating body
• Expert advises cocoa states to mobilise youths, forests for production

Apart from neglect of agricultural infrastructure by the government, non-availability of improved high-yielding cocoa seedlings, scarcity of other inputs such as agro-chemicals, old production technologies and climate change have been identified as impediments to increasing cocoa productivity in the country. Production of cocoa beans was around 300,000 metric tonnes in 2013/2014, but reduced to about 245,000 metric tonnes in the 2019/2020 session.

However, in the 2019/2020 cocoa season, the Ghana Cocoa Board (COCOBOD) aggregated 742,725 tonnes as of June 4, according to International Cocoa Organisation (ICCO). And, Côte d’Ivoire, as of August 3, 2020, aggregated 2.043 million tonnes.

With 2.043 million tonnes of cocoa, Côte d’Ivoire produces about eight times of what Nigeria currently produces, while Ghana, with 742,725 tonnes, produces three times the Nigeria’s cocoa output yearly.

Analysing the sector, stakeholders have X-rayed the challenges and suggested ways to maximise the economy of cash crops, especially, cocoa bean production and value chain.

Dr Patrick Adebola, Executive Director, the Cocoa Research Institute of Nigeria (CRIN), Ibadan, Oyo State, said most of the cocoa trees in Nigeria had been existing for about 40 to 60 years or more. He explained that those plantations had declined in productivity and therefore, there was a need for new ones or thorough rehabilitation of old plantations.

President of the Cocoa Farmers Association of Nigeria (CFAN), Mr Adeola Adegoke, said challenges in the cocoa industries were many, and concerted efforts and investments were needed to overcome them.

Various administrations in the cocoa-producing states had done little or nothing to assist farmers in the rehabilitation of old plantations, or in opening up land for younger generations of farmers to gradually expand hectares of cocoa land and replace the older farmers.

And, Nigeria, he added, is the only cocoa-producing country that has no coordinating board, and where different stakeholders go in different directions.

Adegoke argued that cocoa production had suffered neglect for over 50 years, and advocated strategic cocoa policies, management and support.

Pension scheme, rebate and other organised and government-enabled benefits for cocoa farmers are emplaced in Ghana, Cote d’Ivoire, Brazil and Cuba, but Nigerian cocoa farmers have not been socially, economically or structurally enabled to rev up production.

Climate change, he added, had aggravated the situation, as about 70 per cent of improved seedlings did die in the first three years of planting due to harsh climatic condition following global warming, at the point when they should significantly add to yearly production,

Fire disasters too, as recently recorded in two local government areas of Ekiti State, have wreaked destruction on cocoa plantations, while irrigation facilities are zero for cocoa farming.

Adebola, the CRIN boss, buttressed Adegoke’s point on empowering youths with land, training and planting materials, saying: “There is the issue of the quality of planting materials. Generally, farmers tend to harvest from their farms and produce seedlings themselves so that they can plant and they may not be able to get the maximum yields.

“The Cocoa Research Institute (CRIN) implores farmers to come for improved planting materials that are high-yielding and will produce fruits early in about two years.”

He added that technologies had emerged for mass-propagation of genetically improved materials. Of the propagation technologies, he listed manual, using seeds to propagate those seedlings (which had delayed progress so far), and other technologies such as semi-autotrophic hydroponics (SAH).

“The SAH process is easy,” he said, “having the substrates and parts of the planting materials, a part of the leaf or stem, which will be propagated using a special medium. We root and harden them and make them available for farmers. Seedlings can be produced in millions using the hydroponic technology.

“We are trying to see how this can be introduced to cocoa, although we have attempted that in an experimental trial,” he said. He advised cocoa-producing state governments to mobilise youths into groups, provide them with land, and inputs, while partnering with CRIN to provide technical know-hows for planting, maintenance, harvesting and marketing.

Meanwhile, Special Adviser to the Cross River State Governor Ben Ayade on Cocoa Development and Control, Dr Oscar Ofuka, has noted that cocoa is the major source of revenue generation in the state, trailing federal allocations from oil proceeds.

Ofuka disclosed this while addressing journalists during the Award and Magazine launch organised in commemoration of this year’s International Women’s Day, in Abuja, recently.

Cocoa had been completely forgotten in the state, he said, but during the administration of Governor Ben Ayade from 2015, Cross River State cocoa sector alone has offered employment opportunities to youths.

Listing some of the challenges, a former Provost of the Federal College of Agriculture, Kabba, Kogi State, Dr Akin Oloniruha, identified challenges in the cash crop production, especially cocoa, as negative climate change, unstable price, use of globally banned chemicals, pollination challenges, bush burning and plantation destruction, as well as adulteration of improved cocoa seedlings in circulation.

Climate change, he argued, had led to scanty rainfalls, elongated dry season, frequent dry spells, flooding, abnormal relative humidity and higher temperature fluctuations. All the effects of climate change have negative impacts on cash crops such as cocoa, palm oil, cashew and rubber.

Unstable prices of cash crop in the international markets have also affected morale, as lower prices and discrimination against certain producers have discouraged farmers, investors and aggregators from investing in dynamics that could boost production. Bush burning had also affected thousands of hectares of cocoa and cashew plantations, Oloniruha said.

Excessive dry season, hunting activities, activities of herders setting farms ablaze, and heat-induced fire disasters have compounded woes of cocoa production as productivity is hampered.

He also identified adulteration of improved cocoa seedlings as a barrier. Though the Cocoa Research Institute of Nigeria (CRIN) had developed early-maturing and high-yielding varieties of cocoa and cashew, multiplication and distribution of the varieties to farmers have remained difficult.

Unauthorised individuals have been reproducing old varieties and selling such to farmers as new, which further places limitation on productivity after two or more years of plantation rehabilitation and farm expansion.

Chemicals used by most farmers also kill cocoa pollinators, and hence limiting the number of pods per tree. The number of pods per tree of cocoa determines tonnage per hectare, hence, the more the pods, the higher the yield per hectare of cocoa.

Going forward, the former provost recommended that Nigeria should step up value addition by processing cocoa beans into chocolate products such as drinks, beverages and bars. Exporting such products, he added, would mean more foreign exchange and impetus for more investments in cocoa cultivation, production, and processing.

He also suggested licensing nursery operators by the government to produce seedlings from improved varieties that have been developed by CRIN. Higher productivity per hectare could be achieved if improved seedlings are planted on existing plantations or used for new ones. The same should be done for cashew, palm oil, and other economically viable cash crops so that farmers could have access to improved planting materials.

Other recommendations he included are advocating farm protection techniques against fire disasters, facilitating and using recommended chemicals so that Nigeria’s cocoa beans would be acceptable with premium prices in the international markets, engaging younger farmers in cash crop production and deliberate government policies and support for the cocoa and cashew sector operators.