Thursday, 8th June 2023

‘Reasons Cote d’Ivoire, others surpass Nigeria in cocoa production’

By Femi Ibirogba
13 June 2022   |   4:02 am
CRIN has developed improved varieties of cocoa, which are high-yielding, disease-resistant and early-bearing.

Executive Director of CRIN Ibadan, Dr Patrick Adebola

The Executive Director of Cocoa Research Institute of Nigeria (CRIN), Dr Patrick Adebola, spoke with FEMI IBIROGBA, Head, Agro-Economy, on how production of cocoa, cashew, coffee and kola, among other cash crops, can be revived and utilised as main drivers of economic industrialisation, employment and national development.

What is the problem with multiplication of the new planting materials that CRIN has developed?
CRIN has developed improved varieties of cocoa, which are high-yielding, disease-resistant and early-bearing.

They start producing at 18 months. So, these are very good materials and the yield is very high. We have the materials and the responsibility of multiplying them and giving them to farmers. We call them T-series one-eight and we have the germplasms here.

Every year, we produce the materials and distribute to farmers, but the number that is being produced is limited because these materials are produced through manual pollination, a lot of labour and some technical issues.

CRIN is capable of producing a lot of these materials but we are limited by funding. Again, when we produce these materials, farmers always complain of not having the capability to collect from CRIN. So, we have a problem of distribution. As of now, CRIN does not have any functional vehicle to distribute these seedlings to farmers. The distance is not a problem, the cost on the farmers is a problem. So, that is the major issue in term of getting the materials down to farmers.

How many seedlings is CRIN capable of producing yearly?
Right now, we have the capability to produce at least 500,000 seedlings every year. This can be doubled to a million or tripled to 1.5 million seedlings if we have the required resources.

Are cocoa-producing state governments working with the institute?
Yes. We have a few seed gardens located in various states and these seed gardens are where we plant these T-series materials and get pods for raising seedlings. Every year, states do ask for seedlings and to the best of our ability, we are supplying them.

Why is Nigeria not closing the gap between it, Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana and Indonesia if these materials are high-yielding and the state governments are taking them up?
There are many factors. First, in Nigeria there is no regulation in the cocoa industry. The cocoa board was scrapped and we have been telling the government to bring it back for coordination.

In Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire, they have regulators and that is why you cannot just bring any agro-chemical into their systems without being screened. But in Nigeria, once NAFDAC gives the go-ahead to import, they flood the country with all types of materials that might eventually have residues in cocoa beans, and that is the reason most of the country’s cocoa beans are rejected or attract lower prices.

Again, if you look at the price of cocoa beans in Nigeria in comparism with Ghana, there is a big gap, and this is a disincentive to Nigerian farmers. That is why you can see that people are just relaxed; they do not want to expand their farms or rehabilitate the old farms. It costs a fortune to maintain one hectare of cocoa, but at the end of the day, I can tell you that most of the farmers are not making profit that they are supposed to make on cocoa farms.

Some farms are even being cut down for industrial purposes because they are not getting enough from their farms.

How can the government encourage local processing and consumption when power supply and enabling environment are not there?
This is a general problem in the country. The issue of energy and the issue of power are serious. If you look at the manufacturing industry today and you look at their alternative power cost, perhaps it takes up to 50 per cent or more of their cost. We have to appeal to the government to have regular supply of electricity to bring back the industries and make the industries work. That is why there is higher level of unemployment out there. Factories are closing up.

You have spent 18 months now as the executive director. What have you been able to put in place?
Our primary mandate is research, which was almost in comatose when I came on board because the environment was not conducive. People were on strike, and apart from that, we had several other crises that almost crippled the institution. But today, I can tell you that, thanks to God, those crises are over and I have been able to pull people back into what we are primarily mandated to do.

So, yes the research culture has improved; people have started carrying out various tasks that they are supposed to do among the scientists. I have been able to bring back the culture of research.

We also have to improve the various infrastructure that we have, which was also not of the best. When I came in, I have been able to inject the little bit of funds that we get from the government to bring back those infrastructures. One of them is the flavour laboratory that we established. The lab is recognised as one of the best in Africa. We have four types of that in Africa and I think this one is judged as the best. It can distinguish the flavour quality of every cocoa bean and when you have that, it will tell you what amount of money can be paid for such product. So, it is a plus to us. It is functional and it is running.

Nigeria was good in coffee, kola and tea production. What have become of these cash crops?
We have five-mandate crops of cocoa, cashew, kola, coffee and tea and then we do not prioritise one of these commodities over others. They carry equal weight as far as the institute is concerned. The issue is about funding and demand.

This institute is primarily funded by the government. So, all the crops are equally being given attention. It is just a matter of demand from farmers and how much we get to carry out research on all the crops. But I can tell you authoritatively that all the crops are being given equal attention.

Maybe cocoa is prominent because of the international significance, but that is not the only mandate crop we have. We do a lot of research on cashew, tea, kola and coffee, and we have experimental stations in the six geopolitical zones.

Do farmers also demand improved seedlings of cashew?  
Yes. We produce a lot of improved seedlings of cashew in our sub-stations and also a few in the headquarters. The demand for cashew is even more than cocoa.

What has become of coffee production in Nigeria? 
We have the germplasms for coffee. We have coffee plantations here and in sub-stations. There are two varieties of coffee, the Arabica Coffee and Robusta Coffee.

We do have requests also to give improved seedlings of coffee, but the demand these days, I can say, is a little bit lower than cocoa, cashew and kola.  The Arabica coffee in the Mambila Plateau is a premium coffee and people also do request for such coffee, but the only problem is that there is a particular altitude where the material can do well. So, it is not everywhere that you can plant it. It is mainly on highlands. But Robusta coffee is a lowland crop.

What of kola? Do you have improved seedlings and are they actually planting them?  
The demand is also low for kola, but we do have a lot of people demanding kola. If you go to most of the plantations out there, you would see that out of 1,000 trees, maybe it is only half of it that will be producing the real nuts.  The rest are sterile because they were established by not using the improved materials. There is high level of sterility in kola plantations and that is why we encourage people that if they want to establish a kola plantation, the best bet for them is to come here and get good seedlings.

Do you have some small-scale production models of value chain businesses utilising cocoa products? And can you train youths who want to produce chocolates, cocoa bread and other cocoa-based products?  
We have 23 various technologies and products not only in cocoa, but also from all our mandate crops, and we have an incubation platform, through which we train people how to produce some of these products and by-products. So, the answer is yes. There are platforms for us to train youths, women and individuals who are interested in any of the products, ranging from liquid soap, bar soap, cocoa powder, cocoa bread, cocoa garri, chocolates and others. We can teach them to produce these things.

Are there locally made small-scale machines to produce these products?  
Some of them can be fabricated locally, while some will be sourced from overseas.

So, why are people not coming for training? 
We have been doing a lot of training. We would say why people are not taking up the technologies is funding. We train people, but we do not have the funds to equip them and get them started. So, if the government can come to our aid and give us the required funds, we will train, equip and then monitor the progress of those individuals, youths, women and all those interested in taking up these technologies.