Cocoa: Will Farmers Smile This Season?

By: Kris Obiaje, Akure

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Cocoa farmers in Nigeria and especially Ondo state may be in for a hard season, as the situation in the industry does not look encouraging as was the case in the immediate past season.

Prices have gone to an all-time low, even as cocoa inputs prices such as chemicals have gone through the roof. This is soberer when farmers consider the fact that the bumper yield experienced in the 2016/2017 would not repeat itself this season.

This dilemma couple with the fact that several cocoa farmers have taken credit facilities prior to the season, both to care for families and assist increase crop yield, with expectation for a brighter season; the crop has remained a source of continuous income and credit for farmers.

Before the discovery of oil in Nigeria, the nation’s economy relied heavily on agricultural cultivation and production in the 1950s, 1960s through the 1970s. The Northern Nigeria had a comparative advantage in groundnut production as a major crop, and the Eastern region had palm oil, while the West took charge as a major cocoa production hub. These were the days up till the regional system of government when every region was self-reliant and sufficient.

All that gave way when the black gold was unearthed and petro-dollar found its way into our economic lexicon. With the discovery of oil, the government neglected cocoa and the nation’s share of world output of the crop steeply declined. In 2010, Cocoa production accounted for only 0.3% of agricultural GDP. The Average cocoa beans production in Nigeria between 2000 and 2010 was 389, 272 tons per year, risingfrom170, 000 tons produced in1999.

The scent of the oil foreign-earner may have become the lure that takes political leaders cap-in-hand to Abuja, the nation’s capital for the dissection of the monthly federal-state-cum-local-government allocations; among the ever-neglected goldmine in the agricultural sector – cocoa remains the big income earner.

Cocoa cultivation and processing remain relevant to the economy of Nigeria. The crop is still the leading agricultural export of the country and Nigeria is currently the world’s fourth-largest producer of Cocoa, after Ivory Coast, Indonesia, and Ghana. Major states that produce cocoa in Nigeria are; Ondo, Cross River, Ogun, Akwa Ibom, Edo, Ekiti, Delta, Osun and Oyo.

Sales of  Nigeria cocoa production was earlier marketed by marketing boards put in place by the government. In the 1980s the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund advised Nigeria to liberalize the sector because the marketing boards were ineffective and were creating a bottleneck. 1986 signaled the death of the board. Nigeria dissolved them and liberalized

In response to the economic recession consequent upon the steep fall in oil prices, federal and state governments have continued to intensify their quest towards diversifying the Nigerian economy.

Ondo State as the leading player in cocoa production had taken advantage of its comparative leverage in the sector. The approaches taken to tackle the challenge include the revival of the dwindling fortune of cocoa and ensuring that the state’s record as leading producer of the crop in Nigeria is retained.

Ondo State Governor, Barr. Oluwarotimi Akeredolu (SAN), declared in the middle of the year the readiness of his administration to reposition cocoa cultivation, and encourage more farmers, especially young people to the farm.

In Ondo State, the local government areas engaged in major cocoa cultivation includes; Odigbo, Akure North, and South, Idanre, Ondo East and West, Ile-Oluji/Oke-Igbo, etc. However, chief among them is Idanre and perhaps two or three others in that order.

The effort of government on cocoa production rejuvenation involved the resuscitation of 1,744 hectares of the Cocoa Farm Estate at Oda Village in Akure South Local Government Area. The Oda plantation was established in 1954 by the Premier of the defunct Western Region, the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo during the economic reliant era of the regional governments.

The vast plantation was however abandoned and utterly neglected by successive governments in the state. The village was left to certain career public servants who rented out viable portions to farmers and encroachers at ridiculous agreements. According to Mr. Sunday Aladeniyi, an Oda indigene, “that plantation was like one of the government industries in the old Akure local government. But the coming of oil destroyed that legacy established by Baba Awolowo. Go to the place now, all you will see are dead trees and heavy bush.”

It wasn’t until the administration of Barr. Akeredolu came on board that government as a measure of its economic diversification decided to revamp the cocoa industry and make it a catalyst for employment generation and source of revenue for the state.

The initiative, generated under the Cocoa Revolution Project (CRP), was put in place to among other things establish and rehabilitate 100 hectares each of old and new cocoa farms for farmers as a model for adoption.

Aside from the Oda plantation, cocoa remains the mainstay of Ondo economy. This can be seen in the lull in economic activities in most part of the state all year round except the cocoa harvest and sale season which usually span, October to January. In the words of Mr. Akinola Ademola a cocoa farmer, “all year round we labor and eat almost like servants in our various hamlets and villages and only have weekends to visit the city. This is different when cocoa season arrives. You will see farmers living like kings. Then you would know money is upon us”.

In the year 2016/2017 season cocoa yielded a bumper harvest for farmers across the state, even as the price per kilo was highly encouraging. Speaking with Business Ondo state, a cocoa merchant in Akure city and owner of Olatunde International Ltd, Mr. Kola Olatunde, said cocoa price as it is at the moment isn’t encouraging in the least. In his opinion, the previous season did very well, as a kilo of cocoa was bought by merchants from farmers at between 1,000 and 1, 200. “But this week we are buying at 550, 560 and 570. That is 50% off what farmers got last year. ”

In his submission, another cocoa buyer from Ala-Igbatoro, Alfa Muibi Tiamiyu pleaded with the government to assist farmers in doing something about the price. Because according to him, “farmers have borrowed money from merchants in the previous season, expecting the price to go up more than what was earlier obtained. But the reverse is the case now as this may drive many into debt.”

Continuing, he suggests the price per kilo should be taken to around 900 if not 1,000. “Chemicals are so expensive. The price this year is three times of what it was last year. How do you think farmers can cope? I gave credit facilities to several, how do I get my money, if price is low and the yield are poor? ”

Taking Business Ondo state on a mini tour, a cocoa farme, Mr. Akeem Olusola took this reporter to a cocoa farm just ahead of Kajola hamlet. It was observed that the cocoa trees were beginning to sprout fresh leaves; a process that cocoa trees pass through in late March and early April when the rains just begins tumbling down. According to Olusola, “what you are observing is a reversal process. Cocoa is just about ripening and getting ready for harvest. That process should not be happening. If any young pod are on those trees, you will observe that they won’t develop, but will all turn yellow and eventually dry up.”

We went to the market to sample prices of these cocoa inputs being bitterly harangued by farmers and merchants. At Arakale, Akure, a chemical vendor, Mr. Nurudeen Odere said inputs prices have truly gone up. This according to him was due to the fluctuating nature of the exchange rates which has affected every commodity in Nigeria.

According to him, prices of Redfox and Ultimaxplus which are chemicals of choice among farmers and are used in spraying cocoa pods now fluctuates between 27,000 and 33,000 per box respectively.

Also speaking, another chemical vendor, Sunday Anietan said, prices of inputs have gone up twice their previous season rate. He said other chemicals such as Cypertrap and Zaraforce now goes for 21,600 and 21,400 respectively.

The big question on the lips of farmers that this Paper interacted with is, “will farmers smile this season as was the case the last season?” Chief Samuel Ogumode one of the farmers put the question back to the government (albeit ignorantly?). “The government should do something, and quickly too. They are aware of what is happening with cocoa price. If cocoa sells, every business in town will do well. The government should not allow farmers to begin committing suicide before our Produce price is increased”.

It is revealed that because the crop is an export wholly product, exporters and the international exchange rate and not government policy which has an influence on the final price that reached cocoa farmers in their hamlets when they are ready to dispose of their wares.

Another seasoned cocoa merchant, Mr. Yusuf Olalere shed more lights on the issue; “most times farmers get it wrong. Some of them still think some cocoa board is what determines price. No! That body has been disbanded in the late 1980s. Exchange rate and especially, dollar exchange rate is what determines cocoa price. ”

Another matter with Nigerian final product compared to countries such as Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire is the quality of the Nigerian cocoa seeds, “most times our seeds aren’t at par with what comes from these countries, so it affects the price exporters are willing to offer merchants and merchants are ready to offer farmers who are the final link in the chain.”

Prince Ademoyegan Daniel advised farmers to make sure they properly process their seeds during harvest. He said the minimum period of incubation for seeds after harvest before being exposed to the sun for drying. He equally urged that cocoa seeds be properly sun-dried as this is one of the aids to long-term preservation, especially in the process of it being taken out of the country on export.

Culled from: Business Ondo State 

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