By Sani Adamu, News Agency of Nigeria (NAN)
Unarguably, cocoa used to be one of Nigeria’s most important export commodities and it generated a substantial percentage of the country’s foreign exchange earnings, prior to the discovery of oil.
Available records indicate that Nigeria was the fourth largest producer of cocoa in the whole world in 1965, next to Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana and Indonesia.
Observers, however, note that cocoa production in Nigeria nosedived due to some problems that cropped up following the discovery of petroleum in 1956.
They cite inadequate access to credit by farmers, crop diseases, global price and market fluctuations and inconsistent policy implementation, among others, as part of the challenges.
They also note that successive administrations have made structured efforts to boost cocoa production in the country and restore it to its record levels in the 1960s.
One of the efforts involved the deregulation of the cocoa industry in 1986, as the Federal Government abolished the Nigerian Cocoa Board, the government agency which controlled the marketing of cocoa.
Besides, the government established the National Cocoa Development Committee in 1999 to oversee cocoa production improvement plans.
Other organisations such as the Cocoa Association of Nigeria, the Cocoa Farmers’ Association of Nigeria and the Cocoa Growers’ Association of Nigeria were also established at different times, as part of efforts to boost cocoa production.
Also, the Cocoa Research Institute of Nigeria (CRIN) was established in 1964 to conduct research on how to engender improved production of disease-free or disease-resistant cocoa.
Nevertheless, observers moan that these measures have not yielded the desired results, as cocoa production in the country has continued to experience a steady decline.
They also point at current statistics which indicate that cocoa production in Nigeria accounts for less than two per cent of the country’s export earnings.
The need to tackle the dismal situation, perhaps, propelled President Goodluck Jonathan to initiate the Cocoa Value Chain Development Programme.
Dr Peter Aikpokpodion, the Team Leader of the Programme, said that the major assignment of the programme was to coordinate the training of more than 70,000 cocoa farmers and provide support for cooperative groups in the sector.
He said that the Federal Government had so far distributed more than 3.6 million hybrid cocoa pods to farmers, so as to boost cocoa production and exports.
Stakeholders in the agricultural sector commend the Federal Government’s efforts to revive cocoa production in the country.
They note that due to the purposeful development programmes put in place, cocoa cultivation has received a remarkable improvement across the country.
They say that cocoa production has been improved in Abia, Adamawa, Akwa Ibom, Cross River, Delta, Edo, Ekiti, Kogi, Kwara, Ogun, Ondo, Osun, Oyo and Taraba states, while Imo is making appreciable progress in its cocoa-cultivation efforts.
For instance, the Imo State Government recently announced that it has started the distribution of more than 80,000 cocoa seedlings to farmers.
According to the government, the intervention will aid efforts to double cocoa plantation in the state from 5,000 hectares to 10,000 hectares in 2015.
In the same vein, the Ondo State Government said that it would spend over N400 million to revive its Cocoa Catalytic Company, as part of the measures put in place to revamp cocoa production in the state.
Statistics from the Federal Produce Inspection Service in the Federal Ministry of Trade and Investment show that the volume of cocoa exports from Nigeria hit 300,000 tonnes in 2012.
Corroborating this, Dr Akinwumi Adesina, the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, said that the country’s cocoa production grew from 250, 000 tonnes in 2011 to 370, 000 tonnes in 2013.
He also said that Hersey, a multinational company, is spending 20 million dollars to procure cocoa from more than 20, 000 certified cocoa farmers across the country.
“We will soon launch the Cocoa Corporation of Nigeria, a privately run commodity board, which will further spur growth and investment in the cocoa sector.
“This will include cocoa investment funds to boost local processing of cocoa and value addition,’’ he said. Adesina said that Nigeria earned about 900 million dollars from cocoa exports.
Aikpokpodion said the goal of the Federal Government was to increase cocoa production from the 370, 000 tonnes to 500,000 tonnes by 2015.
He said that the Growth Enhancement Support (GES) scheme of the Federal Government would be restructured to address the concerns of cocoa farmers in the country.
“Under the GES, the cocoa farmers are being provided with critical inputs such as agro-chemicals to guard against black pod and insects, as well as fertiliser to enhance yield per hectare.
“We have also succeeded, for the first time, to introduce a specifically formulated fertiliser for cocoa.
“Cocoa farmers are also given agro-chemicals, insecticides, fungicides, in addition to fertiliser and hybrid pods,’’ he said.
Besides, Aikpokpodion said that the government was addressing the problems associated with cocoa pricing and marketing.
He stressed that these measures, among others, were put in place to actualise the objectives of the government’s cocoa transformation agenda, while enhancing the value chain and moving “cocoa farmers from farm gates to factory gates.
“We are not concentrating our efforts on boosting cocoa production alone; we are also enhancing the whole value chain, in terms of marketing, processing and adding value.
“We are encouraging state governments and investors to take cocoa production to the end of the value chain by producing items like chocolates.
“The strategy is to ensure that cocoa farmers and value chain operators have a better market share of the global value of cocoa,’’ Aikpokpodion said.
Observers, nonetheless, appeal to the Federal Government to give interest-free loans to cocoa growers, so as to stimulate the people’s interest in cocoa farming.
They also harp on the need to ensure early distribution of improved cocoa seeds and other vital inputs to the farmers.
With the measures put in place by the government, analysts insist that all things being equal, Nigeria is on the threshold of regaining her lost glory as a leading cocoa producer in the world. (NANFeatures)