• Monday, May 27, 2024
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BusinessDay

Cocoa rush: Farmers revive old trees amid price surge

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Nigeria’s cocoa farmers are racing to plant more high-yielding seedlings to replace old trees while expanding their growing areas after a six-fold jump in prices this year.

This, according to the Cocoa Farmers Association of Nigeria, will help boost the country’s cocoa output in three years when they start fruiting.
Production may climb by 500,000 to 800,000 metric tons by 2026, Adeola Adegoke, national president of the Cocoa Farmers Association of Nigeria, said in an interview Wednesday. That would suggest a 132 percent rise from Nigeria’s 2022-2023 production estimates by the International Cocoa Association (ICCO).

“There are lots of investments going in the sector as we speak by farmers because of the record prices,” Adegoke said.

“Cocoa farmers are planting more seedlings and taking care of their old plantations so they can have better yields. Even those not growing cocoa have become emergency cocoa farmers,” he explained.

Currently, a metric ton of the commodity sells for an average of N11.2 million at the Matori warehouse in Oshodi, Lagos.

That’s a six-fold jump compared to the N1.8 million a metric ton of cocoa beans sold for in January 2024.

Nigerian cocoa growers are making more money than their counterparts in Ghana and Ivory Coast thanks to a steep naira devaluation that has resulted in a sharp increase in the naira income from the export of the beans.

The international price of cocoa beans has almost tripled since the start of the year owing to bad weather that battered harvest in top West African growers – Ivory Coast and Ghana, causing a shortfall and cutting 50 percent of global supply.

Tempting though it may be to bank the windfall cash, farmers in Africa’s most populous country see an opportunity to invest to produce more. Many are now buying high-yielding seedlings, expanding their growing areas and planting more cocoa instead of less profitable crops.

“With the current price of cocoa, many of us are geared towards engaging in producing more cocoa instead of growing less profitable crops,” Musa Sanda, a cocoa farmer in Kurmi Local Government Area in Taraba, told BusinessDay.

“I just placed an order for 1,000 seedlings to replace my coffee trees as coffee does not bring the kind of money cocoa is giving me now,” Sanda said.

Lawrence Afere, founder and CEO of Springboard Farmers’ Co-operative of Nigeria, said the price rally is not just driving more investments from farmers but also attracting new entrants of farmers into the sector.

“We have a cocoa nursery where we raise seedlings and saplings and lots of farmers not only from Ondo but as far as Abia are coming to buy,” Afere said.

“A man from Abia just placed an order for 60,000 seedlings for four hectares of land he just opened up to grow cocoa,” he noted.

According to him, the push to grow more cocoa owing to the recent price surge is causing encroachment into forest-reserved areas by some farmers as they seek lands to plant more of the beans.

An estimated 1.4 million people in Nigeria depend on cocoa production for their livelihood, according to the U.S. Agency for International Development, and growing more of the profitable commodity would translate to increased income for them.

Cocoa was a major revenue and foreign exchange earner for the country and provided millions of jobs for the people, especially those in the southwest region.

Several years down the line, after the discovery of oil in commercial quantity, the once major cocoa producer now lags behind Ivory Coast, Ghana, and Indonesia in cocoa production, according to the latest data from International Cocoa Organisation (ICCO) 2022-2023 season.

Sayina Rima, former president of the Cocoa Association of Nigeria, said with the current investment drive by farmers and full implementation of the 10-year cocoa plan, Nigeria will triple its production and boost its non-oil export while reclaiming its position in the comity of cocoa growing countries.

Rima noted that the current price surge is causing more young people to rush into growing cocoa in Ikom Local Government Area of Cross River state.

“In Ikom, the price surge is causing more youths to rush into the production of cocoa,” he said from his Ikom farm. “With all this momentum, our production will increase but we need the government to stop paying lip service to cocoa,” he noted.

“Government must fully support the production of cocoa as it remains our main export cash crop,” he added.

Nigeria is currently the world’s fourth largest producer of cocoa, with 280,000 metric tonnes in the 2022–2023 season, according to the International Cocoa Organisation’s latest data on global production and the third largest exporter, after Ivory Coast and Ghana.

Nigeria exported a total of N356.16 billion worth of cocoa beans in 2023, an 18.44 percent increase when compared to 2022 N300.71 billion.

The export of the commodity accounts for 28.72 percent of total agricultural exports (1.24 trillion) in 2023 and 5.6 percent of non-oil exports for the same period.