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Nigeria struggles with cocoa production as China breaks through

By Femi Ibirogba, Head, Agro-Economy
03 June 2021   |   3:07 am
With rugged determination and twist of fortune for China, it now successfully grows and exports cocoa beans to Europe despite difficult production conditions.


Breeder says capacity on seedling multiplication is imperative
• Cocoa farmers want to regulate private investors in seedlings

With rugged determination and twist of fortune for China, it now successfully grows and exports cocoa beans to Europe despite difficult production conditions.

Ironically, Nigeria, with the favourable climate and suitable soil for production, has dwindled significantly in production over the years while its counterparts – Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire – have increased productivity per hectare and total yearly production.

As of 2020, Nigeria’s yearly production was 245,000 metric tonnes (MTs), while Ghana’s total production was 742,000MTs and Côte d’Ivoire, 2.043 million MTs.

Tracing the country’s challenges, cocoa production specialists and farmers have linked Nigeria’s low production to poor emphasis on agriculture generally, and failure of the government at all levels to multiply and disseminate improved and high-yielding varieties of cocoa developed by Nigerian scientists in particular.

South China’s island Province of Hainan exported cocoa beans to Belgium for the first time, as disclosed by the Chinese Academy of Tropical Agricultural Sciences (CATAS) recently.

It was reported that the first batch of 500kgs of cocoa beans, worth about $3,600, was produced in Xinglong, a township of Hainan with a tropical climate, as a result of rugged determination by scientists and farmers to produce cocoa and other tropical crops in China.

“Cocoa is a raw material for making chocolate. With the increasing demand for chocolates, Hainan has been expanding its cocoa planting area and making breakthroughs in technological development,” said Hao Zhaoyun, a researcher with CATAS.

“As Belgium is dubbed ‘kingdom of chocolates,’ exports to the country indicate that our cocoa production standards have been recognised by the international community,” Hao added.

Cocoa is mainly produced in tropical regions such as West Africa. Hainan is the most northerly cultivator of cocoa in the world, and the breakthrough really poses serious competition to traditional producers of cocoa in Africa.

Call for Nigeria’s intensive production re-echoes
The call for more support for private sector investors and public investments in the multiplication and distribution of new varieties of cocoa has intensified, but the response to the call has been elusive.

New varieties of cocoa, researched and developed by Nigerian breeders, were registered, approved and released over a decade ago, but the capacity to upscale and out-scale the new varieties has been depleted as most of the cocoa seed breeding gardens have been degraded.

One of the breeders who worked on the varieties at the Cocoa Research Institute of Nigeria (CRIN), Prof. Peter Aikpokpodion, who now lectures at University of Calabar, Cross River State, in an interview with The Guardian, said the greatest challenge confronting multiplication and distribution of the early-maturing varieties to farmers is lack of capacity.

Prof. Aikpokpodion said: “The most important factor in productivity is technology development. We have produced the technology, but what Nigeria has to do is scaling up and out the technology to farmers.”

He explained the capacity to mean the foundation and breeder seeds needed in designated cocoa seed gardens, with trained intermediate workers for manual pollination to produce enough foundation planting materials. But unfortunately, most of the gardens are either moribund or sold out for residential building construction.

“Seed gardens were de-centralised, but now they are all gone,” he lamented.

The way forward, he suggested, is private sector participation in seed garden establishment and multiplication.

He also urged the Nigeria Agricultural Seeds Council (NASC) to work with CRIN and the private sector operators to ensure the production of pure breeds of cocoa varieties already developed.

This, he said, would ensure farmers have access to pure varieties which would fast-track productivity per hectare and total yearly production in the near future.

Features of the varieties include reaching maturity within two years or less; higher yield per pod and tree; disease resistance and better economy of production as fewer quantities of agrochemicals are used in production.

To move cocoa production up and maximise the economy of the cash crop, including value chain development with associated job opportunities, forex earnings, poverty alleviation among farmers and improved agricultural gross domestic products, the capacity to upscale and out-scale the pure planting materials must be rebuilt, and the government all levels should provide enabling environment for the private sector participation, he advised.

Meanwhile, dispelling the fear or possibility of China overtaking West African cocoa producers, the Executive Director of CRIN, Dr Patrick Adebola, in a chat with The Guardian, said: “We need to know the details of China’s cocoa plan. I don’t think it is something to worry about. We should focus on producing and exporting beans that meet the quality standards of our international buyers.”

Dr Adebola also suggested that Nigeria and other countries producing cocoa could maximise their production by planting improved cocoa varieties, rehabilitating old unproductive plantations and encouraging participation of youths in cocoa farming by giving them incentives such a land, seedlings and technical support.

A former Provost of the Federal College of Agriculture, Kabba, Kogi State, Dr Akin Oloniruha, said the countries maximizing benefits and revenue from cocoa are those making chocolates and other cocoa products, such as Switzerland.

He said: “You can be sure China will not sell raw cocoa beans as we do in West Africa. They will dominate the market in that sector. Other countries will still patronise our cocoa beans. But we need to further encourage the processing of not only cocoa but also other cash crops.

“We need to also increase our production by stepping up production and distribution of improved seedlings to farmers, increase access to extension services by farmers to enhance better adoption of sound agronomic practices, assist farmers with subsidised inputs and discourage deforestation.”

Meanwhile, the National President of the Cocoa Farmers Association of Nigeria (CFAN), Mr Adeola Adegoke, admitted that getting the improved varieties of cocoa in Nigeria is a challenge as CRIN, the only source of breeder and foundation planting, lacks adequate capacity to multiply the planting materials.

He said most farmers still use old and low-yielding materials to rehabilitate existing farms and establish new plantations.

He welcomed the private sector participation, but with a caveat that such should be regulated by the supervisory agencies of the government to prevent adulteration and shortchanging farmers by selling old varieties that would take four years to fruit.

He said many members of the association had fallen victims to such fraudulent practices.

Major cocoa-producing states in Nigeria are Ondo, Edo, Cross River, Ogun, Akwa Ibom, Ekiti, Delta, Osun and Oyo. Others include Kwara, Nasarawa, Taraba, Zamfara, Kogi and Benue States, with the possibility of more states. But most experts said more states could explore cocoa production in the country, especially in the southeast, south-south and north-central zones.

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