In the 1960s and 70s, Nigeria was a major cocoa producer and supplied most of the world’s demand.
Cocoa was a major revenue and foreign exchange earner for Nigeria and provided millions of jobs for the people, especially those in the southwest region.
Several years down the line, the once major cocoa producer now lags behind Ivory Coast, Ghana and Indonesia in cocoa production.
The reasons for this are not far-fetched. stakeholders finger bad weather, old trees that have not been rehabilitated, and lack of improved seedlings (planting materials) as major reasons for Nigeria’s loss of ‘cocoa power’ in the global market.
In fact, Nigeria was unable to supply large quantity of cocoa to the world in 2015 despite rise in the prices of ICE and Liffe cocoa beans.
Nigeria is no longer getting full economic benefits from growing cocoa as most cocoa fields are old and small as well as the poor genetic qualities of the planting materials used.
However, succour has finally come to Africa’s most populous country in the area of planting materials as farmers can now rehabilitate old cocoa trees using bud wood- for production of more high-yielding cocoa seedlings.
Experts say Nigeria must begin now to rehabilitate its old cocoa plantations, incorporate modern agricultural techniques in expanding its cocoa production and ensure that farmers have easy access to hybrid seedlings, while ensuring that only approved agro chemicals get to the markets.
To achieve this, Anna Muyiwa, plant biotechnologist, Cocoa Research Institute of Nigeria (CAN), said the country must start rehabilitating old cocoa plantations and develop more hybrid varieties.
“We need to rehabilitate our old cocoa trees in all cocoa producing states. A completely rehabilitated cocoa plantation of proven clone will produce as much as 2.5 tons per hectare,” Muyiwa said, stressing the need to develop more hybrid varieties
“Nigeria’s cocoa average yield per hectare is among the lowest in the world and this is due to old age of most cocoa plantations,” she further said.
Nigeria needs to move its cocoa’s industry from the 19th century to the 21st century by exploring the massive investment opportunities and its inherent potential for the Nigerian economy in the sector by building the capacity of extension workers to help farmers rehabilitate old cocoa trees and cultivate new clonal seedlings gardens.
Also, by supporting young entrepreneurial cocoa farmers with renovation and expansion of atomised farms to 3-5 hectares and creating the enabling environment to spur investments in the sector.
Nigeria currently produces less than 500kg of dry bean per hectare.
According to Muyiwa, this very low level of cocoa production has made it necessary to change protocol of production.
She stated that vegetative propagation is the best way to ensure increased production of high quality cocoa pods or beans instead of seedling cultivation because it enables multiplicity and commercialisation of high-yielding strains.
The plant biotechnologist explained that vegetative propagation makes it possible to multiply desired cocoa varieties, thereby ensuring ‘quick replication of highly productive planting materials, production of uniform trees with shortened gestation period and cocoa plants are protected against diseases.
Irrigating cocoa fields
Cocoa can be an all-year crop if farmers can have access to sufficient water supply.
Over the years, Nigeria’s cocoa production has been seasonal as farmers continue to depend on rain-fed agriculture, which has limited the country from realising the full potential of the crop.
Agricultural activities are hard hit by irregular climate patterns, which hurt farming activities.
Experts who spoke with BusinessDay attributed this to climate change, which now affects the agriculture cycle, thus making irrigation farming the only way to cushion the effects of inadequate rainfall.
“The time has passed for farmers to be solely relying on climate-fed agriculture as the climate changes,” Akpan Imeh, a climate change expert, said.
Imeh stated that Cote D’Ivoire has expanded its cocoa productivity above Nigeria and every other country because it has evolved the cultivation of the crop beyond the traditional ways that rely on climate.
“If the soil forms a bond, then the soil will be able to withstand a lot of water stress, but if there’s no bonding, irrigation is badly needed,” he added.
But farmers have complained that lack of finance and inadequate government support have made it difficult for them to adopt irrigation farming.
“Lack of funds, coupled with inadequate government support, which, even when in existence, hardly trickles down to we smaller farmers, makes it difficult for us to adopt irrigation,” Oladokun Wasiu, a cocoa farmer in Iddo local government area of Oyo State, said.
The constant supply of water to the farm throughout the year— irrespective of climate— guarantees all-year high yield of cocoa.
The average age of cocoa farmers in Africa’s largest economy is 60 currently, implying that the sector is yet unattractive to Nigeria’s young population.
“The average age of a farmer in Nigeria today is 60 years. For a crop that is highly labour-intensive, 60 years will not give the maximum impact in the industry,” Rima said.
“Tree crops like cocoa suffer the most. We need to start making cocoa and the like attractive to the youths through incentives, because the investments in tree crops are very high and most youths cannot afford it,” he added.
Lack of technology and innovation in the sector has continued to make farming unattractive to Nigeria’s younger population.
“Youths will only find agriculture attractive if there are innovation and technology in the sector. Technology is very crucial if Nigeria really wants youths embrace agriculture and boost its productivity,” Abiodun Olorundenro, operations manager, Aquashoots Nigeria said.
Currently, the Federal Government is making efforts to make agriculture more attractive to the youths but such efforts have yielded little impact as most young people do not want to be involved in the drudgery of agriculture, experts say.
According to experts, failure to make agriculture attractive to the younger generation would be disastrous to the country as population continues to grow at about 2.6 percent per annum.
“If we are serious to feed ourselves as a nation, we must attract the younger generation to farming. If we fail to achieve this, our food import bill will continue to rise,” Olorundenro said.