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Published On: Sun, May 18th, 2014

Tackling challenges of cocoa production in West Africa

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Cocoa productionBy Ifeanyi Nwoko

Nigeria, Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire are among the big cocoa producing nations in West Africa. However, cocoa production in Ghana and Nigeria is plagued with diseases, such as swollen shoot and black pod diseases.

As a result of disease burdens, Ghana which used to be the largest producer of cocoa lost that position to Cote d’Ivoire.

Dr Frank Amoah, Managing Director of Cocoa Research Institute of Ghana (CRIG), said that from 1938 till date, Ghana has felled 200 million cocoa trees to control the effects of the devastating swollen shoot disease.

He said that the swollen shoot disease is caused by a plant pathogenic virus transmitted from tree to tree by mealy bug vectors.

“Its symptoms which vary with environmental conditions include root or stem swelling, leaf discoloration and death of the tree, which has major effect on crop yields,’’ he said.

He said that the need to tackle the disease was the major reason for the establishment of the institute in 1938 after the disease was discovered by farmers in 1936.

“The problems affecting cocoa is a major one and we have done our best to ensure that we have kept the disease under control.

“The two main diseases that affect cocoa are the swollen shoot disease and the black pod disease.

“I must say that as at now we are managing the swollen shoot disease in that we have not found any major cure for it.

“It’s a viral disease as at now, over 200 million cocoa trees have been felled as a remedy for managing it.

“It’s a major problem in the west coast countries of Ghana, Nigeria, Togo, and even Cote d’Ivoire that didn’t have it, it’s now a major problem there.’’

Although Cote d’Ivoire did not experience it before, the disease has now become a major challenge for the nation and for Nigeria as well.

To control the disease, the CRIG in collaboration with the Cocoa Research Institute of Nigeria, Ibadan, were able to clone some cocoa materials which have shown promising levels of resistance to the swollen shoot disease.

“Some cloned cocoa materials were giving promising signs of the disease resistance through agronomic practices like barrier cropping, while more experiments would be followed through to minimise the disease spread,” Amoah said.

The cocoa seeds produced after the experiments, appeared to have met international standards.

Mr Eric Reid, President of a U.S.-based firm, Spagnvola Chocolatier LLC – Washington, DC, commended the quality of the cocoa beans produced in Ondo State.

Ondo State is the hub of cocoa farming and production in Nigeria.

Reid said that the quality of the cocoa beans from Nigeria and other West African countries was comparable to the ones from South America.

‘’In our quest to disprove that general view about cocoa coming from Africa, our journey in Ondo with the Cocoa Revolution team is beginning to bear fruit.

“Seventy per cent of chocolate from the New Oda Estate cocoa beans, produced an amazing aroma and flavour,” he said.

The Chairman of Ondo State Cocoa Revolution Implementation Committee, Dr Jibayo Oyebade, said cocoa produced in the state for chocolate production has been presented to the partnering firm, Cargill Cocoa and Chocolate Company, Netherlands.

“We taught our cocoa farmers how to improve the quality of their cocoa through proper fermentation.

“Our partners have taken our sample and are satisfied with it. I am proud that our effort has yielded good results. We want to reproduce chocolate from our own cocoa” he said.

Nigeria and Ghana plan to upscale their production with Nigeria targeting 500,000 tonnes while Ghana targets one million tons annually.

Mr Israel Ikwejulor, Chief Control Officer, Federal Produce Inspection Service, said that the Federal Government has begun distribution of hybrid cocoa seeds, developed by the Cocoa Research Institute of Nigeria.

The hybrid cocoa seed would take about two to three years to mature as against five years maturity span of older seed.

“The Federal Government is investing heavily on cocoa production and regeneration of cocoa plantations by way of giving farmers hybrid cocoa seeds.

“We currently produce about 250,000 tonnes of cocoa, but government is working at doubling that amount to 500,000 tonnes per season.

“The cocoa seeds we used to have will take five years to mature, but the hybrid seeds will take between two to three years,’’ Ikwejulor said.

For Ghana , Dr Alhasan Yakubu, Deputy Minister, Food and Agriculture, said the country is paying a lot of attention to cocoa production.

“It is true that we are no more number one in production, but within the country, if you give a total evaluation of the industry, it is constantly growing.

“We hit a million tonnes in 2010 that is the highest tonnage of cocoa production in the country since cocoa started being exported in this country.

“I am not saying it is satisfactory, but let me say that constantly we are moving up if you compare ourselves to ourselves.

“But if we compare ourselves to our neighbours and the global situation, we wish we could have more bite of the global market, but internally the most developed commodity institution in Ghana is the cocoa.

“So, constantly we have initiatives to get it going,’’ the minister said.

He said that factors such as smuggling and diseases were responsible for the drop, as Cote d’Ivoire now tops as highest producer of cocoa.

He said that the government had embarked on free mass spraying of cocoa farms, increased price of produce, all in a bid to encourage farmers.

“We are also replacing the old trees with new hybrid varieties, so it is our belief that sooner than later we will reassume our first position,” he said.

Cocoa processors in Nigeria and other West African countries want the government to sustain the current drive to boost cocoa production, as cocoa has a wide variety of products and derivable that can create jobs.

(NAN)

 

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