• Wednesday, June 12, 2024
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Cocoa: Nigeria’s highest agric export at risk as adverse weather threatens output


Last year, Jide West through his company JK West Farms Limited planted 30,000 cocoa seedlings on 20 hectares of land in Obafemi Owode area of Ogun State. Today, he has lost more than 70 percent of the cultivation, whereas he still has 30 hectares of land still available for him to cultivate, and seedlings sitting in nurseries.

Like West, many cocoa farmers across Nigeria are having a tough year as adverse weathers, a factor out of their control to some extent, is making them stare helplessly at financial losses if the rains do not start falling again, and in good proportion too. For many, irrigation, which should have come to their rescue, has never really been put in place.

“Cocoa will be affected (this year) because it needs a lot of water for the pods to grow and be of sizeable amount, then all the seeds become well developed,” West says, who is now looking to explore irrigation as a way to save what is left of his investment.

In the first quarter of this year, Nigeria exported cocoa products worth N55.9 billion, a 70 percent increase from N32.8 billion within the same period last year. However, the gains may not be sustained by the end of this year, and possibly eroded as farmers lament the impact of adverse weather conditions.

For cocoa to thrive, its productivity depends on how much rainfall is available during the season, although when in excess this could also lead to Blackpod disease, according to Oladokun Bolawa, a cocoa sustainability/value chain consultant in a phone interview with BusinessDay.

“Anytime there is water available, sunlight and conditions favourable to cocoa, it will produce,” Bolawa states. However, the first of those, which is water, has been insufficient this year.

“At this time we ought to have had substantial rainfall and expecting the first break, but that has not happened,” Bolawa says, noting, “If it goes on like this till the end of the year then definitely there will be fall in production.”

Bloomberg had last month reported a drop in the output estimate for the 2020 main crop by 18 percent, attributed to the spread of the fungal black pod disease caused by heavy rains in the country’s main growing areas.

Ironically, while heavy rains put cocoa farmers at risk of the Blackpod disease, its continued absence for weeks is now making farmers jittery and fearful over their investments.

Quoting Mufutau Abolarinwa, president, Cocoa Association of Nigeria, the 2020 main crop was expected to drop to 148,750 tons from the previous estimate of 181,475 tons in the report.

“By now (August), we should be getting ready for the main crop, but the weather has been a major factor,” notes Sayina Rima, who owns about 100 hectares of cocoa cultivation in Cross River State.

According to Rima, a major factor limiting production is climate change, which has been unpredictable.
Added to this, and more applicable to smallholder farmers, is what Rima describes as lack of extension services from both federal and state governments to be able to get farmers abreast with changes in climatic conditions and other changes they should be aware of.

“The farmers are largely dependent on their knowledge of time past,” says Rima, who was president, Cocoa Association of Nigeria.

For West, who planted some of his cocoa seedlings and left the rest in nurseries because of insufficient rainfall, if he does not plant them, they are all going to die. “We are at the mercy of climate and weather. This global warming thing they are talking about, I think it is just getting adverse and really affecting people,” he says, saying, “There are a lot of farmers that are indebted already.”