Cocoa Farming

SPECIALISTS, ASSOCIATION SUGGEST WAYS TO MAKE COCOA HIGHEST FOREX EARNER IN NIGERIA

Breeders, farmers advocate return of modified cocoa boards

Cocoa Farmers’ Association of Nigeria (CFAN), breeders and administrators have challenged the government to revive cocoa production as a top foreign exchange earner with proactive interventions. The proactive interventions, they argue, include a modified coordinating board, structured investments, adoption of latest high-yielding varieties, seed multiplication technologies and value chain development approach that could rev up industrialization of cocoa beans, local consumption and employment generation along the value chain segments.

The Director/Chief Executive of the Cocoa Research Institute of Nigeria (CRIN), Dr.  Olayiwola Olubamiwa, disclosed that Nigeria’s current cocoa production is around 367,000 tonnes annually, while Cote d’Ivoire produces 1.48 million tonnes and Ghana’s output is 834,000 tonnes.

The poor production level of cocoa in Nigeria, he said, is due to, among others, non-existence of cocoa commodity board, slow multiplication of new fast-growing, better-yielding varieties of cocoa, poor funding and failure of farmers to adopt the new breeds. He said, “The erstwhile Cocoa Board was scrapped in 1987. Things have never been the same since then. Nigeria was second world producer until the early 1970s. Nigeria’s production declined from 420,000 tonnes yearly in the 1960s to 170,000 tonnes in 1999.”

Putting up an argument for a cocoa board, he recalled that “With the efforts of the National Cocoa Development Committee (NCDC), production moved from 170,000 tonnes in 1999 to around 350,000 in 2006. Present production level is 367,000, bringing Nigeria to the fourth position. Nigeria cannot run away from the issue of a coordinating body if it wants to move forward.”

Backing up his argument, he added that “The existence of Ghana Cocoa Board is responsible for its success. Secondly, Nigerian cocoa trees and farmers are old. The age brackets of the two are the same, over an average of 50 years. The NCDC and the Cocoa Transformation Agenda (CoCTA) did a lot of rehabilitation of old trees but the efforts need to be beefed up.”

Moving forward, he said CRIN had developed improved and early maturing varieties (TC1-8) that can transform cocoa production level, yielding three to five times (1.5-2.0 tonnes per hectare, as against 300 – 400kg per hectare with the old varieties. “In essence, with higher productivity and great tolerance to disease, the TC1-8 is the wand in our hands. However, there is a big gap between having these materials in our hands and having them practically on Nigeria’s cocoa farms,” he said.

Tissue culture in seedling production as a wand
Cocoa is traditionally propagated by seeds through open pollination. Plants derived from such seeds are highly heterozygous with wide genetic variation and with a large proportion of low yielding trees in a plantation. Classical vegetative propagation methods such as grafting and rooted cuttings have been applied to cocoa production but with limited success. In addition to a number of disadvantages, including the spread of disease, particularly CSSVD, intensive labour and associated costs.

Cocoa hybrid varieties (CRIN TC1-TC8) have been identified but there is a severe shortage of planting materials due to rapidly increasing physiological and environmental pressures. Dr. Olubamiwa said biotechnology systems provide a fast and highly efficient method for the propagation of superior cocoa varieties selected in breeding programmes and make improved planting materials available to farmers on regular basis, saying, “The alternate method for clonal propagation is somatic embryogenesis (SE) following clean seed systems, a technique for mass propagation of disease-free, true-to-type genotypes.

“Somatic embryogenesis is a type of vegetative propagation based on plant cell toti-potency which offers a superior alternative to other vegetative propagation methods.”

In the case of cocoa, it can allow the rapid propagation in millions of selected F1 hybrids, thereby avoiding manual hybrid seed production. It is a laboratory (artificial) process in which plants are derived from ordinary plant cells or tissue. It is a rapid means of producing high yielding planting materials (seedlings) that are disease-free on a large scale, Olubamiwa explained.

Expressing optimism about Nigeria’s ability to surpass Ghana and Cotre d’Ivoire in cocoa production, Dr. Akin Oloniruha, a formal provost of a college of agriculture, said, the major areas to explore include getting improved breeds from research stations to farmers at affordable prices, stepping up pest and disease control through the integrated pest management approach, training farmers in hand pollination of cocoa flowers or encouraging them to rear honey bees in their plantations to improve pollination.

“We must also enforce laws aimed at reducing deforestation because the rate at which we are losing the forests to logging activity is alarming. Above all, we must develop the value chain for cocoa such that we can export finished or semi-processed products instead of raw cocoa,” he suggested.

Over 80-year-old Dr Oluremi Atanda, a geneticist and former World Coordinator, Cocoa Geneticists and Breeders Working Group, tracing the genesis of the decline in cocoa economy, said, “We had a cocoa board. It was a great institution. I am not saying they were perfect, but it was great to get things moving. Now, it is saddening and unbelievable that Cote d’Ivoire that we taught in 1964 to 1968 now surpasses us in cocoa production.”

Dr Atanda said “if it is a cocoa board modified in line with the economic realities of today, I will recommend it. With that, we will have a body that will take your crop at a reasonable price even when the price of cocoa is at its lowest ebb.” He also identified rural-urban migration as a cause of the decline, saying as a result of salary increment, “the rural-urban migration created a problem. It was easy to make money in cities than going to the farm except the peasant farmers who regarded farming as a way of life.”

He said, “That time, cocoa earning was over 60 per cent of the Nigerian foreign exchange. The change of government disrupted everything. Then came the civil war. So, the military regimes concentrated more on oil, but ignored almost every other thing.”He too advocated the value chain development of cocoa, saying, “Let there be diversification of the use of cocoa. One Dr. Okunnuga was making cocoa wine. He made millions of naira. The government should harness the experiences and resources of living old researchers.”

Cocoa farmers’ position on the way forward
Comrade Adeola Adegoke, the National President of Cocoa Farmers’ Association of Nigeria (CFAN), said the Western Region, during the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo’s administration, built the tallest building (Cocoa House), first television station, and provided free education through the cocoa-driven economy.

“However, due to the neglect after dissolution of the cocoa board by the Nigerian Government at the federal and state levels, production has decreased drastically where we moved from 300,000 tonnes plus per annum in the 80’s to 245,000 tonnes yearly now,” the CFAN boss said.

Pinpointing the causes of stagnation and decline in cocoa production, Adegoke explained that cocoa-producing community’s infrastructure had collapsed: bad roads, distant schools for farmers’ children and poor health facilities.“Again, poor finance has become a major challenge because our cocoa farmers lack adequate finance support to take good care of their cocoa trees for good production. Insecticides, fungicides, fertilizer, herbicides and labour cost have become unaffordable.

“The other areas are in the varieties. Cocoa farmers have serious issues with good seedlings that are pest-resistant and that can produce about 1.5 tonnes per hectare or three tonnes per hectare. Other issues have to do with value addition, consumption of cocoa-based foods in the country and insurance for cocoa trees and farmers against unforeseen hazards,” he said.

To the cocoa association, the major solution is to deploy strategies that would be cocoa farmers-centred, where the foregoing could be tackled and working through CFAN and other cocoa stakeholders to find lasting solutions to the myriads of challenges.“And it is also interesting that since my assumption of office as the National President of CFAN, we have started organising our cocoa farmers across the cocoa-producing states in Nigeria with all relevant stakeholders, governments, donors agencies, scientists, research institute, exporters, processors, international bodies and lastly the CBN to bring back the lost glory of the cocoa economy of Nigeria through share prosperity from the smallholder cocoa farmers to the other value chain operators for the sustainability of the cocoa sector and raise the quality of our cocoa beans,” Adegoke said.

Professor Peters Aikpokpodion, a former adviser to Dr Akinwumi Adesina on Cocoa Transformation Agenda and lecturer at University of Calabar, Cross River State, said Nigeria continues to underutilise its huge potentialities in cocoa and hence is poorly positioned to take advantage of the growing opportunities in the global cocoa value chain.

The cocoa breeder, who had helped in the development of latest high-yielding varieties, said, “With regards to its internal production growth in term of national output, limited efforts due only to private individual investments have done only a little to move the needle northwards.” He advocated that “Massive government investments are required to prime the sector for growth. This is in terms of scalable and upfront investments in rehabilitation of more-than-half-a-century-old plantations that dominate the landscapes around cocoa growing areas of Nigeria.”

According to him, although early and high yielding improved varieties are available, the scale of diffusion and adoption by farmers is still very poor given the very limited capacity for multiplication and distribution, suggesting that “Private sector investment is needed in this area for upscaling these improved planting materials that mature in only two years of field planting for massive deployment by farmers.”

However, Dr. Olubamiwa of CRIN suggested tissue culture technology as the solution to seedling multiplication challenge, saying clean and disease-free seedlings could be produced in millions with a short period, using the cells of new varieties of cocoa.Prof. Aikpokpodion also said there should be a smart and appropriate public financing plan regarded as a strategic public economic infrastructure to enable the country to utilise its comparative advantage among cocoa growing countries. 

“Getting this investment deployed,” he suggested, “requires a structured investment plan and machinery to systematically cover all cocoa growing parts of the country . “He added that “we do need an organized structural framework to underpin the nation’s cocoa sub-sector for competitiveness. Growing our national output from barely more than a quarter-million tonnes is of top priority at the moment, while growing the value-addition segment of the value chain with appropriate and innovative financing.”

He specifically recommended a cocoa coordinating structure, saying, “Talking more of the essence of structural sector management framework, the COCOBOD of Ghana was able to attract US$ 600 million investments for the upstream segment of its cocoa value chain to allow them grow national cocoa beans output and top 1.25 million tonnes target at the just concluded African Investment Forum in South Africa in November 2019.”

Prof Aikpokpodion said the same might not be easily accomplished for Nigeria “without first ensuring a restructure of the present situation to have a private sector governance framework supported by the Federal Government of Nigeria with key stakeholders in the cocoa sector playing an active role, or in fact, directing the affairs for the benefit of the national economy.”

As part of the way forward, Prof. Aikpokpodion recommended “Making available appropriate financing through the Central Bank of Nigeria’s special interventions at a single-digit interest rate, a favourable moratorium of about three to four years and a loan term of between seven to 10 years in tandem with the natural production dynamics of cocoa.”

He added, “It will be an appropriate financing model that can trigger massive investments needed to significantly give a leap upwards from the current trajectory of the nation’s cocoa production that has been limited to what I called the “100 to 400 thousand tonnes window. We need to make a quantum leap into another level; the ‘500,000 to 1.0 million tonnes window’.” Only nations playing in that space, he argued, are reckoned as big players like Cote D’Ivoire and Ghana, saying, “This can be a national priority that the current government can challenge itself to deliver for the growth of nation’s economy.” Do we have the varieties, the favourable land mass, labour and other resources to achieve the goal? Yes, Prof. Aikpokpodion said. What Nigeria lacks is the political will, the commitment or determination to achieve the goal.

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