Olusegun Awolowo, executive director/ chief executive officer of the Nigerian Export Promotion Council (NEPC), the country’s non-oil export promotion outfit, has appealed to relevant government agencies, including the Ministry of Agriculture in Abia State, to assist farmers with relevant extension services, necessary to produce quality cocoa beans for the export market.
This is as he promised that NEPC will continue to facilitate market linkages and provide market information to exporters, in addition to product development efforts, in line with its mandate.
The NEPC boss in a keynote address presented to stakeholders at a capacity-building workshop on “Cocoa Value Chain”, organised by the Aba Smart Office of the Council, in Umuahia, the Abia State capital, described the workshop as a perfect action towards increasing cocoa production in Abia State.
Represented at the forum by William Ezeagu, director, product development, NEPC headquarters, Abuja, Awolowo, stated that the overseas market for cocoa is competitive, as buying countries stipulates stringent quality requirements for exporters to meet quality requirements such as certification in sustainability, fair trade, organic, among others.
He noted also that the issue of integrated pest management is of paramount importance in managing cocoa beans.
“As most of you here are aware, NEPC organised a programme in early 2018 on “Increasing Cocoa Production” which was held in Umuahia, Abia State. At that event, the Council distributed farm inputs such as cocoa seedlings, cocoa spray equipment and good agricultural practices (GAP) quality chart, to farmers in Abia and Akwa Ibom States. It is gratifying to note that some of these seedlings are doing well in the field”.
He urged farmers to use approved pesticides in production. “Farmers and local buying agents must therefore ensure proper cocoa grading, quality analysis and regulations in line with Federation of Cocoa Commerce (FCC) rules”.
Michael Okeniyi, head of station, Cocoa Research Institute of Nigeria, Ibeku, Umuahia, in a paper titled “Good agricultural practices in the production for export of cocoa and its derivatives”, stated that Nigeria is currently losing its global ranking in cocoa production due to poor production practices and non- compliance with importing countries’ requirements, among other issues.
“As at 2015, while Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana boasted of production levels of about 1.7 million metric tons and 800,000 metric tons, respectively, Nigeria’s production still hovers around 250,000 metric tons yearly,” he noted.
To intensify cocoa production, he urged farmers, governments and the private sector (cocoa buying companies, input dealers, banks, and credit institutions) to make some changes.
He advised farmers to run cocoa farming as a gainful business, plant improved materials (hybrid cocoa), use approved inputs (fungicides, insecticides) at recommended dosages and follow best management practices (for example, land preparation, nursery establishment, planting requirements, pruning, weeding, fermentation, etc.).
He also urged them to use fallow for new farms instead of a forest, be experts on their own farms and provide assurance to the buyer and to the consumer of sustainable production and consumption.
On the side of government, he advised that government should provide a reliable source of improved planting materials and support the setting up of seed distribution systems that reach the majority of farmers, find ways to lower the price of inputs, employ an efficient input delivery system and increase support to cocoa research, among other recommendations.
He also advised private-sector investors to develop more effective ways to provide credit to farmers, play a more active and effective role in delivering services and inputs to farmers, provide markets for traditional agricultural commodities, help farmers to access information on cocoa markets, partner with governments to develop enabling policies for developing rural markets and assure governments of a sustainable demand for crop.
The workshop was attended by farmers, co-operative society members, local buying agents, and relevant government officials.