Cocoa can be mainstay of the economy —CFAN president

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The national president of cocoa Farmers Association of Nigeria (CFAN), Adeola Adegoke, speaks on the development in the cocoa value chain. He also highlights some activities geared towards revitalising the sub-sector and the upcoming cocoa farmers day celebration. COLLINS NNABUIFE brings the excerpt.

What is happening to the cocoa value chain?

Before and after the liberalisation through the dissolution of Cocoa Board in 1985, a lot of activities have been going on. The sector has never been regulated; it has become unregulated, and we have been seeing a lot of investments in terms of the producers growing cocoa, in terms of the processors, the exporters working on their own unassisted. That is what has been happening in the sector, it has been by private effort. Although we should be very factual with ourselves that during President Olusegun Obasanjo’s administration, there was cocoa development committee that was put in place and it did a lot of work to make sure that there was more consumption of the commodity. There is more in terms of production, in terms of rehabilitation and in terms of better pricing and image, but this is just a drop in the ocean. These efforts have never yielded so much because looking at the statistics of cocoa production in the year 2011 to 2015, it has nosedived. That is why today what we are getting is about 250,000 metric tonnes, and the global production is about four million metric tonnes. Ivory Coast produces nothing less than two million metric tonnes, Ghana produces about 800,000 metric tonnes. So what we are producing is lesser.

We have to look at how we can get the system working in the cocoa sector, and what has contributed to the problems we are having is our production per hectare.

Our production per hectare has never been helpful. For example, what we get in Nigeria is about 300 grams per hectare, but in Ivory Coast and Ghana, they get over 700 grams per hectare and sometimes 1000 grams per hectare. So this is a serious issue that has affected the sector, and that is why you see that the smallholder farmers are becoming poorer.

Lack of infrastructure has always been another gap.

Someone called me from a big cocoa community in Ondo State that they have been cut off, and this means that the farmers cannot even move out and visitors cannot visit the community. When we have a community that produces close to 10 tonnes of cocoa, and it has been cut off, you will agree with me that this is a big problem.

This is what has been happening in terms of the dilapidated infrastructure, all those things and the climatic conditions are not so friendly, we are having issues with building up a new generation cocoa breeds have never been surviving because of the heat waves.

We also have the issue of fire outbreak. You can see that these are very serious issues, and there is no existing insurance policy that actually protects the interest of an average cocoa farmer.

So, when you look at all those things and the varieties we also have, sometimes what we will be given as a good variety is fake.

Sometimes when you look at the high cost of inputs vis a vis what cocoa is being sold at the open market, it is a serious concern. And agriculture is business, your output should be able to leverage on your input, there should be a profit, but on the issue of cocoa, those who decide the price are different from those who are growing it. These are some of those challenges, apart from the agronomic practices such that farmers are not abreast of the new ways of building business-oriented farming.

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There is also poor financing; because cocoa is a tree crop, you can’t compare it with arable crops, it has gestation period which is longer. You will see most of the investors running away, and the value addition is poor.

We don’t have many people consuming cocoa. For example, we are having school feeding programme, there is no cocoa tea there. So, until we start to look at how many cocoa processing factories are working presently, these are some of those issues that we are battling with as far as the cocoa industry is concerned.

How have you tried to resolve some these issues you raised at the association level?

If you look at the set of people we have been approaching, we have been building a kind of partnership and collaboration. We have visited those who matter in the government circles; we have visited the private drivers of the cocoa economy. If you look at the dignitaries we are inviting who are speakers that are going to participate in the programme, they are the movers in the industry.

Those are some of the steps we believe that will draw the attention of not just the government, but also the private sector, because the government is to create the enabling environment for those who are involved in it to thrive, and we have been doing that.

We have been working seriously through the Federal Ministry of Agriculture, Ministry of Trade and Investment, and those in the sector who are exporters, processors; we are going to see them at the Cocoa Farmers Day celebration.

What stopped the Cocoa Day relaunch in Ondo State?

I was one of the members of the committee; we were excited as cocoa farmers that such event is coming back again and hoped that it won’t be a jamboree as usual because what has happened to the celebrations of cocoa day in the past has never been encouraging because we just realised that everybody will come and speak and nothing has been done to touch the system. So, we believe that it’s going to be a paradigm shift from the past of lack of performance from the government and the rest and we were very hopeful that the Cocoa Day would be a kind of catalyst to make sure that the system improves in terms of productivity, in terms of image and making sure that there is a guarantee market for our cocoa farmers.

But it was quite unfortunate that the time coincided with the exit of the former governor of Ondo State, Dr Olusegun Mimiko. I was the person that took the letter from the minister of agriculture to the governor that the ministry was planning a Cocoa Day that would be flagged off by the president. I was privileged to discuss with the former governor and he was actually preparing for his exit and he told me that since he was leaving office, and that we should wait for his successor and allow him to host the event. He said that he would include the event in his handing over notes.

That was actually what happened and thereafter I tried as much as possible by my position then as the national secretary of my association and I wrote to the new governor, Rotimi Akeredolu and reminded him of the need to reactivate the event. The delay also came from the ministry of agriculture where there was non-release of funds to convene the committee meeting and probably host the event if there is enabling environment for the event to be hosted by the Ondo State government.

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But I think that all these happened because of our unseriousness to see that cocoa plays an important role in the economy of the nation.  We have been looking at what cocoa did during the Western Region days; we look at it that for our economy to grow, we must take good care of our commodities. An economy that is not agriculture-based  does not solve our problem.

In terms of industrialisation of cocoa, are we on track?

I just finished a meeting with the Ministry of Trade and Investment and there is a cocoa action plan. One of the things the action plan tries to achieve is the local value addition; some of the paper work will still be sent to the Federal Executive Council for approval to be able to go to the next level of implementation. We have been given the opportunity as cocoa farmers’ association to look into things that deal with the production, whereby we can domesticate the value addition because Nigeria has the population to consume what we produce. If we are producing 250,000 metric tons, it will not be enough.

I was discussing with one of our partners and I did point out some of those areas that we need to create value addition. Using cocoa husks to make black soap, using cocoa to make cocoa wine, the husk for organic fertiliser and cocoa bread need to be strengthened. We need it more than anything else and our powder should be redefined and the medicinal value aspect of it needs to be re-emphasized.

Those are the areas to look at. I don’t see any reason why most of our fresh graduates will be walking around the streets not doing anything. They are thinking that the best way they can invest is internet fraud. We still believe that opportunities abound in the cocoa business. Why should our people ask for wine from South Africa? If there is cocoa wine available people will go for it.

Some research works are in Cocoa Research Institute. They have been completed and they have been there for over six years. Our youths have not been able to key into it because nobody is transferring those research works to the small-scale industries to build on them. Those are some of the gaps I am using my leadership to fill.

What’s your membership strength, and how are you carrying them along?

As I speak, many of our farmers have been calling. We have meetings when there are issues. As far as I am concerned, I carry all my executive members and all the chapters along. We have been engaging seriously. All hands are on deck. What we are trying to do is to ferment cocoa well so that it gives a very good image and that transfers to a higher price.

It is a concept, it is also to address issues militating against the price of cocoa. We cannot just sit somewhere and be mixing good cocoa seeds with bad ones just because we want to satisfy selfish interest. We are demarketing the producers who are sweating to produce cocoa. Those are the issues we had to address; that is why we can’t do it alone because we produce for some people to buy, and they should know that we rely on them. They are duty- bound to protect the interest of the consumers, the nation and sustain the sector.

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