Scrapping of cocoa board, nigeria’s greatest undoing — Aikpokpodion
• Nigeria Loses Millions Of Dollars To Government officials
Nigeria’s cocoa beans have been under performing in the export market and both the farmer and nation are shortchanged. From the marketing perspective, where did we get it wrong?
Seventy per cent of the cocoa beans exported by Nigeria goes to the island country of Barbados before it goes to other destinations.
The reason is that some countries would not do direct trading with us due to lower quality of the produce. I think there is also an under hand dealings that does not augur well for the nation. Nigeria is the only country that does not have an institutional framework around its cocoa sector.
In the time past, it is Nigeria that went ahead of World Bank to dissolve its Cocoa Board. That was when trade liberalisation was going on. Nigeria did it by herself. The Nigeria Cocoa Board and board of other commodities were scrapped.
Other countries that went through trade liberalisation at that time later realised the unprofitability of their action and reorganised. Ghana did not go with IMF/World Bank recommendation but kept their Cocoa board. Nigeria and Ghana were almost at par, in the control of the global cocoa economy in the 60s and perhaps, early 70s; Nigeria was doing about 17 per cent, while Ghana, 20 per cent. Nigeria was a major player and our cocoa flavor was excellent, of course, attributable to the genetic material available to the farmers. Even today, such attributes still speak in its favour.
Cote D’Voire reorganised and they have a commission that regulates and controls Cocoa and coffee commodities. In only one year of operation, the quality rose dramatically because of reorganisation and coordination of efforts. It produces about 1.8million metric tonnes of cocoa presently.
Nigeria’s system that is riddled with corruption, greed and selfishness can only produce so little (less than 700,000MT) and that is not even very authentic because there is no reliable statistics.
In Africa, Ghana, Cote D’voire, Sierra Leone, Togo and Cameroun have cocoa controlling boards or agencies. It is nonexistent in Nigeria and this is the point the Cocoa Transformation Agenda sought to deal with by the last administration particularly, the past Minister of Agriculture. But there were challenges. Right from Abuja and down the various arms of the value chain, some people never wanted the sector coordinated, as there appears to be a network of forces hindering real progress.
For example, there is a kind of connivance between the cocoa bean sellers (traders), private sector people, and government officials. There is five dollars levy for every ton of cocoa exported and this money is supposed to go to the Cocoa Fund (to invest and support cocoa sector, but in reality, it does not exist).
In the Ministry of Trade and Investment, there exists a committee, which has no interest of the cocoa economy at heart; rather it is all about estacodes on travels for in consequentials.
In the subsector, do the produce inspectors do their job in reality – keeping records and ensuring quality?
The cry has been about the will to free the cocoa economy from the hands of these people, who work hand-in-hand to keep Nigeria’s interest down, while other nations are making progress. Government is not making any money from cocoa, which should not be the case.
The place is out of control and was a major reason the immediate past Minister of Agriculture Rural Development wanted an institutional framework to get the cocoa economy properly organised.
The cocoa business has no clearing house, just like saying a business had no office address. Cocoa is a very important subsector of the nation’s economy. The good news, however, is that we developed a strategy and a document is now in place, before the former Agric Minister left.
There were issues of greed, selfishness and inter-ministerial competition (that is between the Federal Ministries of Agriculture and Rural Development, and Industry, Trade and Investment). It does not pay to work at cross-purposes, raising policies that contradict the purpose. A middle road approach would have helped the course of our cocoa economy, instead of one trying to outplay or outshine the other.
On the other hand, some so-called development partners are taking undue advantage of us (there are things they cannot do in other countries, they do feely here because there is nobody to coordinate the sector). Many of them come around, claiming to help in development, but in reality, it is not so. They want to actually siphon your money. They would claim they are bringing technical assistance, except for USAID that brings in genuine contribution; others only want to collect money from the ministry.
As I took charge of what the Agric Ministry asked me to do, many of the partners did not want my presence, if they had the power because we had to demand that things be done properly and transparently. I refused to be pushed around because I am not a civil servant, but a qualified professional in the university environment, with about 25 years in the cocoa subsector. Some are still at loggerheads with me because I dared to defend Nigeria and her interest.
If you do a project with USAID, every single dollar is accounted for, so it should be with people doing business with our country.
What has become of the organisation of the Cocoa subsector?
When the stakeholders and government settle down and be organised, the farmers would receive support the best way possible. Nigerian farmers are very hard working people.
For instance, when the economy was nose-diving and crashing, last year Nigerian farmers sold over N700,000 per ton at the farm gate; this had not happened in decades. Naira crashed and this would help cocoa farmers, who have commodity that could be exported. Those who abandoned their cocoa farms are going back now because it is time to make money.
One of the problems facing the subsector is lack of proper organisation and operational framework. It is not enough for the state governments to budget money for seed grading and all that – this is not good enough without framework of having inputs on time, monitor standard, do appropriate quality control and enforcement. This would make everyone to sit up.
Government can then earn money because money that comes in now goes into private hands like the big players – OLAM (the biggest), Ayoade, and others. These are exporters.
Now, what has happened to our local processors they are deep in debt and down. Is there any reason government should not intervene in assisting Multitrex, the largest indigenous cocoa processing factory in Nigeria and Africa? This is supposed to be a flagship company in the country.
Just like the United States takes General Electric (GE) – always striving not to allow it to go under, so it should be with Multitrex and Nigeria. Of course; government would come in to deal with sharp practices and lack of transparency where found, but the company should be lifted.
Nigeria’s cocoa is still one of the best in terms of the natural attributes required in food processing.
For now, Nigeria is doing about 85,000 hectares of cocoa out of three million hectares that we could handle.
It should be emphasised that the rural economy in Idanre, Ikom (Cross Rivers), Ekiti and similar places depends on cocoa and employs millions of people.