Little Abdulqahar Mohammed could well be described as a child with penchant for processed cocoa foods such as Bournvita beverage.
“Whenever he cried as a toddler, Bournvita drink or any other variety of cocoa beverages easily pacified him; not even pap, a local food drink common to most infants sufficed,” recalls Malama Sefiyat, Abdulquahar’s mother.
Other kids and adults too, have their own peculiarities of foods processed from cocoa. These underscore the fact that cocoa as a cash crop will constantly be in demand by food and beverage processors the world over.
Besides foods, cocoa is also processed into other consumables such as soaps, creams and related cosmetics in huge commercial quantities. Cocoa has proved therefore, to be a major revenue earner for farmers and entrepreneurs in the food processing and manufacturing sectors of nations’ economies.
Agriculturists trace cocoa’s origin to the Aztec civilization in South America in the 14th and 15th centuries, though over the ages, its cultivation had spread to many parts of the globe, including Africa.
In West Africa, Nigeria had ranked amongst the leading cocoa producers in the sub-region. In the 1960s in particular, long before the oil boom years of the 1970s, cocoa was a major export crop for the nation as it fetched a sizeable percentage of the nation’s foreign exchange earnings.
In fact, the product largely drove the economy of the defunct Western Region of Nigeria, with legacies of its economic relevance still standing till the present day. Regrettably however, crude oil displaced the agricultural sector of the nation’s economy from the early 1970s and till date, the sector has remained faltering, while efforts made by successive governments to restore the old glory of agriculture proved ineffective.
Cocoa production, which was predominant in the South-West and parts of South-South geopolitical zones of the country, was badly hit by the drawback in the agricultural sector, largely because of the emergence of oil as the nation’s new major foreign exchange earner.
“Cocoa used to be the major revenue earner for the old Western Region of Nigeria just as palm oil and groundnut boosted the revenue profiles of the Eastern and Northern regions of the country respectively,” said National Coordinator, Golden Cocoa Producers of Nigeria, Dr Tunde Arosanyin.
By the account of Dr Akin Adesina the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, an estimated 600,000 metric tonnes of cocoa is produced annually in Nigeria.
He said that the expectation of the Federal Government is that the figure would rise astronomically, once current efforts at revitalizing cocoa production began to yield fruits.
As part of the collaborative effort to give boost to cocoa production in Nigeria, an international conference on cocoa held recently in Abuja, under the auspices of the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, the Dutch Sustainable Trade (IDH) and the UNDP.
With the theme – “Mobilizing Public-Private Sector Cooperation for Sustainable Cocoa Development in Nigeria”, stakeholders in the agricultural sector brainstormed on ways to revitalise the crop’s production in the country again.
The participants were optimistic that it was a matter of time before the cash crop regained its old glory as a prime revenue earner for the country.
Lokoja-based small-scale farmer, Mr Anthony Alabi is one such optimistic Nigerian.
“I am very sure that there is a life span for the crude oil currently sustaining Nigeria’s economy today. Experts predict that it will dry up one day but with a cash crop like cocoa, the revenue earning capacity is limitless.
“Before our crude oil dries up, this is now the time for the public and private sectors to begin to revive cocoa production and other cash crops that could sustain the country’s economy and put it on a long-lasting footing. “
Alabi’s viewpoint is most apt as many agricultural economists also believe that it has become imperative for the nation’s economy to be diversified through giving a renewed attention to the agricultural sector.
They hinge their arguments on the fact that oil revenues had become very unstable in recent times because of fluctuating prices, besides the prediction by experts that the nation’s oil could dry up in the next 50 years.
Such a scary scenario, no doubt, reinforces economists’ views that the diversification of the economy is sine qua non; else the nation will inevitably find itself in economic doldrums in a matter of decades to come.
An agricultural economist, Mr Jide Akinola particularly shared this sentiment saying: “There is the need for us to start the process of diversifying the economy urgently by channelling more resources to the revival of the nation’s cash crops, with cocoa production as a focal point”.
The Minister assured the conference participants that the Federal Government would not renege on its pledge to boost cocoa production in the country once more.
He disclosed that government planned to establish the Cocoa Marketing and Trade Development Corporation, specifically to harness opportunities in cocoa production in the country.
Adesina assured that the new outfit would seek to redress the dwindling fortune of the cocoa industry in Nigeria, with a view to boosting the nation’s production capacity annually.
Besides, he said, the newly created organ would work to improve cocoa farmers’ skills, while boosting the competitiveness of the commodity at the global market.
A former president, Nigeria Cocoa Association, Mr Victor Iyama commended government’s initiative, stating that the corporation should, indeed assist farmers to access standardised inputs at subsidised rates, to enhance their production for export.
He said the corporation would be a positive development as long as it acted as the market of last resort and not buyer or seller of commodities as it was with the defunct Nigeria Cocoa Board (NCB).
“We need a board that will promote the production of cocoa in this country. The reason is not far-fetched. Today, Ghana is producing 915,000 tonnes and Cote d’Ivoire is producing 1.3 million tonnes.
“Ghana only has about 24 million people, Cote d’Ivoire, maybe 29 million people. Nigeria used to be at par with these people. Today, we are producing about 300,000 tonnes.
“So, we welcome that board as long as it is a board that will be used to promote cocoa.”
In all these efforts, analysts expect that the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) would continue to act as a valued partner in the revival of the nation’s agricultural sector by giving financial empowerment to relevant institutions to ultimately assist farmers. .
Only recently, the Federal Government unfolded a fundamental reform in the nation’s agricultural sector through the Agriculture Transformation Action Plan (ATAP).
The initiative focuses on the development of the key areas of the agricultural sector, which had comparative advantage, value chain development and cluster-farming settlement.
Minister of Finance, Mrs Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, who also doubles as the coordinating minister for the nation’s economy said that ATAP would create about three-and-half million jobs in the agricultural sector in the next four years as it focused on the production of five major crops in which the country had comparative advantage, among them, cocoa.
She added that through the progamme’s implementation, an estimated N300 billion additional income would be injected into the hands of Nigerian farmers; with an additional N350 billion into the economy through rice sufficiency.
Arosanyin, applauded government’s efforts but specifically urged the government to utilise the buffer fund accruable from foreign sales of raw cocoa, to further boost the crop’s cultivation in Nigeria.
The buffer fund represents ten per cent of the total profits made by foreign companies which bought raw cocoa from Nigeria. The proceeds are expected to be ploughed back into the development of cocoa production in areas of its cultivation.
Many participants advise that the fund should be purposefully utilised to assist farmers and boost researches that would further improve the variety of seedlings available in the country, to enhance the price of the nation’s cocoa at the international market.
Some economists have also urged the government to give incentives to private sector operators to set up cocoa processing industries in the country. This, they say, will maximise incomes from the crop from its cultivation to processed state.
They insist that the practise where raw cocoa is exported to foreign countries at relatively cheap prices, whereas the finished products are imported by Nigeria at excessive costs, negates true economic transformation.
Such a focus they maintained would revive the moribund industrial sector, while creating more employments for the citizens.
Dada Ahmed, writes for News Agency of Nigeria (NAN)