The Federal Government’s goal is to achieve 500,000 million metric tons (mt) of cocoa through the rehabilitation of old plantations, expansion programmes and best agricultural practices. Some development partners have joined the government‘s campaign to restore Nigeria to its past glorious position through empowerment programmes, reports DANIEL ESSIET.
When President Muhammadu Buhari urged cocoa stakeholders to step up efforts towards repositioning the industry, he did this because the country had lost its place among cocoa producing countries.
Buhari, who was represented by the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Mr Audu Ogbeh, at the first International Cocoa Summit at the Nicon Luxury Hotel, Abuja, in August, lamented Nigeria’s fall from fourth to seventh position in cocoa production.
He described the situation as unfavourable to the nation’s economic growth.
He said: “Cocoa is the second largest foreign exchange earner for Nigeria after crude oil, and has generated over two million jobs directly and indirectly along its value chain. The sector has suffered neglect as a result of over reliance on crude oil. This led to a decline in the country’s annual production from 420 metric tonnes in the 60s to 192, 000 metric tonnes in 2015. The country is long overdue to make the shift from being primarily an exporter of commodities and raw materials to becoming an industrial economy.”
The President called for a return to the use of the hitherto abandoned Nigerian Industrial Revolution Plan (NIRP) launched by the previous administration in 2014, to revive the sector. Nigeria was a leading producer and exporter of cocoa. Until some time in the 1970s, it held an enviable record.
Revenue from cocoa helped to sustain the livelihoods of not only farmers, but the entire citizenry, as proceeds were used to build roads, schools and health facilities. But the story is different today. Ageing trees, poor soil quality, and a younger generation in danger of disengaging from cocoa production represent an imminent threat to an industry that had struggled to develop significant productivity-per-hectare.
The changing weather and poor incentives to farmers combined to reduce cocoa yields from that period to the present day. Today, the industry is seriously challenged. But, in spite of this, a huge market exists for raw and processed cocoa and its derivatives, locally and internationally.
Analysts say the global market for chocolate and cocoa beverages is worth over $200 billion yearly. According to them, the beans are the goldmine of the cocoa plant because they are processed into cocoa liquor, cocoa butter, cocoa powder, and chocolate.
Markets for Nigeria’s cocoa exist in European countries, such as Netherlands, France, Germany, the United Kingdom (UK) and the United States (US) where demands for chocolate are high.
All hopes are not lost as industry partners have commenced moves to revitalise the industry. One of them is the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID), which has mapped out strategies to empower cocoa farmers.
The intervention is being carried out through its Market Development in the Niger Delta (MADE) platform, designed to build Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) at farmers’ level through relevant and accessible training initiatives, which improve efficiency, ‘bankability’, and sustainability of food production.
MADE is partnering Syngenta, an international biotechnology company, that has been involved in key transformation projects in agriculture.
The partners are working with cocoa farmers on good agricultural practice, post-harvest solutions and market linkages.
Right now, pests and diseases are a big problem for cocoa farmers. It is estimated that approximately 30 to 40 per cent of all potential cocoa production is lost to diseases and pests globally. Cocoa farmers face a variety of fungal diseases and insects/pests, which attack the leaves, stems and pods.
These include black pods, witches’ broom, frosty pod, pod borer and brown cocoa mirid.
Indeed, tackling these pests and diseases has been an issue for some farmers, who lack adequate knowledge on responsible pesticides usage.
This has affected the fortunes of some of the farmers as European Union (EU), a big export market for the produce, insists on limited and proper pesticides use.
But there are chemicals permitted for use on cocoa, which meet EU’s requirements. These are what some development partners are trying to promote.
At a cocoa stakeholders and farmers’ field-day event, organised by Syngenta Nigeria Limited, in Adejubu, Araromi Igbatoro and Akure North of Ondo State, the company promised to supply cocoa farmers with a new non-copper fungicide called ‘Pergado’, to combat copper based fungicide diseases.
Pergado, which is already in use in Côte d’Ivoire, has been approved by the Cocoa Research Institute of Nigeria (CRIN).
Syngenta Nigeria Limited Country Director, Sunny Ameh, said the organisation had in the past three years trained over 16,000 smallholder cocoa farmers across states with support from MADE Project.
Ameh said Pergado is a copper free product used to combat blackpod and other fungal diseases affecting cocoa production, with the potency to fight copper based fungicide diseases. He added that once farmers experience the efficacy of the product, they will have an edge on cocoa producing farmers in other countries.
He added that Syngenta is committed to supporting cocoa industry revival in the country in order to reclaim its position as the top cocoa producing country in the world.
He said: “Syngenta has been working with development partners such as MADE in Ondo in agric input value chain, promoting the adoption of new technologies, delivering higher yield, and training farmers to develop the right skills.
“Our partnership with MADE in the Niger Delta is so unique in the sense that it has helped us to reach more farmers at the grassroot. We are helping farmers to engage superior and best practices that are of benefits to them and helping them to achieve much more from their traditional practices.”
MADE Team Leader, Olatunde Oderinde, believed empowering the farmers was an important way to free them from poverty and hunger.
He said: “MADE wants to see more ownership from our famers. We want our farmers to take ownership of our work with Syngenta. We want the farmers to lead the pilots in the field.”
Oderinde said his organisation is looking forward to partnering government and cocoa farmers to make the business successful.
Some farmers, who attended the event, expressed optimism about using Pergado.
They expect the chemical to help limit losses of about 25 to 45 per cent often experienced by cocoa farmers owing to diseases.
Highlights of the event featured a field tour of some cocoa plantations for product testing.
Director/Head, Cocoa Research, CRIN, Dr Rasheed Adedeji, said the decision by the institute to certify Pergado, is hinged on the quality of the chemical and its potency of taming diseases, especially the cocoa black pod disease which is very aggressive in wet and humid conditions and spread mainly by rain splash.