Dr Patrick Adebola is the newly appointed Executive Director of the Cocoa Research Institute of Nigeria (CRIN), Ibadan, Oyo State. He explains how most forests can be developed for agro-forestry farms to engage youths in cash crop production; the challenges confronting cocoa and cashew production, and availability of improved planting materials and distribution impediments, among others. FEMI IBIROGBA, Head, Agro-Economy, reports.
Nigeria produces fewer tonnes of cocoa beans yearly than Ghana and Cote D’Ivoire. What are the factors responsible for the poor productivity in Nigeria and how can they be resolved?
First, most of the cocoa trees in Nigeria have been existing from about 40 to 60 years and even more. Therefore, those plantations have declined in productivity and there is a need to either plant new ones or that the old plantation undergoes thorough rehabilitation. This is one of the reasons the productivity is low.
Secondly, there is the issue of the quality of planting materials. Generally, farmers tend to harvest from their farms and produce the seedlings themselves so that they can plant and they may not be able to get the maximum yields. The Cocoa Research Institute (CRIN) implores farmers to come for improved planting materials — seedlings that are high-yielding and will produce fruits early in about two years.
There was a national programme between 2013 and 2014 that was to mass-produce improved seedlings for free distribution to farmers. Why is the programme unsuccessful and why is the current government hesitant in this regard?
The government has been doing their part. From my understanding, every year, the government, through the Federal Ministry of Agriculture, in conjunction with CRIN, produces thousands of improved seedlings, which we distribute to farmers. The number may need to increase so that the impact would be better.
Can you give an estimate of the quantity of seedlings produced and distributed to farmers?
Last year, we produced almost a thousand improved seedlings.
Are these farmers, the old plantation farmers, rehabilitating their existing plantations?
The majority of the farmers are to establish new plantations. For this year, we have planned to produce about 500,000 cocoa seedlings of improved varieties for distribution to the farmers.
Has this plan been incorporated in the budget?
Yes, it is already in the budget. The budget has been appropriated…
Is CRIN in charge of the seedling production or outsourced in different region?
The institute has six sub-stations which are situated in the six geo-political zones in the country. We produce seedlings at the headquarters here, as well as in our sub-stations, where these mandate crops are being propagated. There is a station in Cross River State, in Abia State, in Ondo and Edo State each. The production of seedlings is spread across all our sub-stations so that farmers who live close to the sub-stations can get easy access to the seedlings.
What do you need as an institution to mass-propagate the improved varieties of cocoa seedlings that can close the production gap between Nigeria and Cote D’Ivoire?
A lot of technologies have emerged to help mass-propagate genetic materials that are of very high quality and are of high demand. We do the manual production, using the seeds to propagate those seedlings. But there are other technologies like the semi-autotrophic hydroponics (SAH), which can be used to mass-propagate improved planting materials. We are trying to see how this can be introduced to cocoa and although we have attempted that in an experimental trial.
How is the hydroponic production carried out?
The process is easy, having the substrates and parts of the planting materials, a part of the leaf of stem, which will be propagated using a special medium. We root and harden them and make them available for farmers. Seedlings can be produced in millions using the hydroponic technology.
The process does not begin in the laboratory and it is not solely produced in the lab but we keep them in an environment, conducive for them to root easily and for them to acclimatise.
Why is there low cashew production and what factors have led to this?
Cashew is another cash crop that Nigeria is blessed with. Cashew can practically grow anywhere in Nigeria. The reason for the low production is probably because people are not aware that it is a money-spinning kind of business. The institute is ready and have been supplying planting materials of Jumbo nuts, Indian dwarf and the likes that are given to farmers. I think that we are capable of supplying planting materials upon request by farmers.
Will you suggest plantation expansion or intensive production and increased productivity of available hectares?
It is a combination of several factors. One, most of the trees are not as productive as we would expect them. So, it is good to go for high-yielding materials to establish new plantations. It is also possible for old plantations to be rejuvenated. These are the areas to be considered to increase production.
Most of the cocoa processing factories in Nigeria are gone and there are no standardised cashew processing factories. Is there a correlation between shutting down of the factories and production of these cash crops?
I wouldn’t say that there is a correlation between the two. The issue remains that the agricultural sector was and has been neglected because of the oil boom. Therefore, the farms are abandoned and they become moribund and there is little or no interest in farming. Thankfully, the government is bringing us back into agriculture. The plantations were neglected and this is why most of the plantations do not produce good yields.
Going to industries, it is the neglect of a particular sector that affects industrialisation. If the primary source (raw materials) are not available due to the neglect and abandonment, the industry will not be productive. However, things are changing. Industries are springing up but there are a few processors of cocoa and cashew. I am positive that the industries will continue to increase in the entire value chain of cashew.
You mentioned that farming has been abandoned for so long. Regardless of this, there are no jobs for the youths and over 14 million youths are said to be unemployed. How can the younger generations be attracted into the agricultural sector, especially in cash crop production?
When a plantation is established in Nigeria, it takes only years before it begins to yield, and the farmer can begin to harvest, under favourable conditions. The plantation can exist for more than 50 years and for this reason, we are appealing to the youths to come into tree crop farming, because it is highly lucrative. These generations of youths rely on white-collar jobs, which happen to be scarce these days. But with the support of the government, I think this is an opportunity for youths to come into agriculture.
What advice will you give to state governments that are known for the production of cocoa and cashew to empower interested youths?
I will recommend the grouping of the youths in those states by the state government, providing them with land, incentives in terms of inputs, while partnering with CRIN to also provide the technical know-how for planting and harvesting and marketing.
Are you suggesting that the forests occupied by criminals can be transformed into cocoa and cashew production zones?
Yes, I suggest this because forests are not to be left fallow and unutilized, and this is something the state government can look into.
Let them group the youths and allocate hectares of land to them for tree crop farming and provide them with planting materials and the essential training for production, harvest and marketing of the crops.
What do you suggest as panaceas for the herder/farmer crisis, engulfing the country at the moment?
This issue is like a hot potato and it’s been ongoing for years. Although it is nothing new, the casualties in these clashes are alarming and the government should pay reasonable attention to it. There has been a lot of suggestions pertaining to ranching, cattle colonies, and I think that these solutions are workable if they are applied genuinely. We also need to understand that both farmers and herders are citizens of the country, hence protecting their interest is key in that, this crisis can be resolved amicably. I believe that it can be a win-win situation if the place of dialogue is prioritised.
As the newly appointed Executive Director of CRIN, how do you intend to help scale up production of cocoa, cashew, kola nut, tea and other cash crops to meet up with the demands yearly?
CRIN is an institute saddled with the mandate of making sure that the genetic potential of the five mandate crops — cocoa, cashew, coffee, kola and tea — are improved. We will play our part.
Yes. We have been undergoing this research for over 50 years and it has yielded a lot of result. We have been able to get improved materials for the five mandate crops that are being propagated yearly to farmers. Going by your question about our vision, I will say that our vision is to continue to carry out quality research so as to come out with highly productive varieties that will be distributed evenly to farmers to help improve their production.
Secondly, we are saddled with the responsibility of transforming some of the mandate crops into by-products to add value. We have a section in the institute which is responsible for value addition. So, our intention is also to continue along that line. The technology is readily available and we are anticipating the investors to take them up. We are also ready to train and deliver those technologies to whoever can take them up or those who we can partner with.
Do you imply that the technologies can be imparted into youths?
Certainly. Our institute is funded by the public sector and we are capable of making the knowledge available to youths, to women and would-be entrepreneurs, who are interested in taking up those technologies. With our institute being funded by the public resources, I believe that the transfer of this knowledge will be without service charge.