In the 80s, cocoa was arguably one of the major cash-crops relied upon as a foreign exchange earner, which serves as the major employment of labour across the nation but the crop faced declines when Nigeria discovered oil in commercial quantity.
As global demand for chocolate is outpacing the rate of cocoa production, especially with extreme weather condition, El Nino, affecting cocoa production, Nigeria has become one of the luckiest countries in Africa where the effects of the phenomenon has not been greatly felt.
Nigerians should grab this opportunity and use it well, which could put about $3.5 billion per annum in the pockets of farmers and government’s coffers, if value addition is encouraged in the sector. Economists said that Nigerians should take advantage of the current recession to invest in cocoa farming, as there are species, which yield fruits within three to four years.
The demands for cocoa products around the world are huge especially in the chocolate industry, which gives a cogent reason for Nigeria to see the need to restore its dignity as leading cocoa producer and exporter.
Speaking on how to be a successful cocoa farmer, the Deputy Managing Director of Peniel Gerard International Limited, Ojiefoh Enahoro Martins, said potential farmers and investors should consider few factors like cost, climatic condition/temperature before dabbling into cocoa farming business. He therefore advised intending farmers to approach professionals in cocoa farming business.
Ojiefoh emphasised that farmers should identify a good forestland with the appropriate climate and suitable rainfalls, saying that cocoa seedling is very sensitive and can die off quickly if not handled properly.
He added: “Under the forest canopy is the ideal place to plant cocoa. The land you intend to use for your cocoa farming must be covered by rainforest canopy. He said the temperature is between 21 and 23 degrees Celsius, with a fairly constant rainfall of 1000-2500mm per year. In Nigeria, the best period for planting cocoa is around April and May when the rainy reason is just picking up but irrigation system is the best alternative for a successful cocoa farming business.
“I will advice investors or intending farmers to start small with at least two to four acres because of the sensitivity and technicalities. Reason being that it is after the first three years before you can start harvesting but before then, it is 100 per cent management and investment. A plot is about N30,000 to N40,000 depending on negotiation with landowners.”
After land preparation, labour costs are followed by input costs such as fertilisers and pesticides. However, their use will depend on other factors such as the quality of the soil and the level of pests and diseases.
He said land spacing should be 3m x 3m to have 1,111 per hectare. Cocoa seedlings can be planted at 3m by 3m. It can be intercropped with other plants preferably plantain in order to provide temporary shade for the young cocoa seedlings. He said cocoa can stay more than 30 years if properly managed and pruned very well. So a tree can produce 10 to 80 fruits called pods and a pod has 20 to 50 beans and cocoa trees need less nitrogen but need more of potassium, phosphorus and boron chemical fertiliser is more effective for profitable production.
There are three main varieties of cocoa recognised, which include Criollo, Forastero and Trinitario. However, the Criollos variety dominated the market until the middle of the 18th century. It possesses a mild cocoa taste but it produces smaller yields and its fruits are more expensive. Forastero is considered the forefather of all cocoa varieties and delivers very good harvests. It accounts for some 80 per cent of global cocoa cultivation. Typical characteristics of Forastero are its powerful, less aromatic cocoa flavour that can in some cases be bitter or acidic. The back looks hard and rough and can be found easily in Nigeria, Ghana and Ivory Coast. The Trinitario considered belonging to the Forastero, although they are descended from a cross between Criollo and Forastero. Trinitario planting started in Trinidad, spread to Venezuela and other countries. Trinitario combines the hardiness of consumer cocoa with the pleasant flavours of luxury cocoa.
Where intending farmers can get support
Ojiefoh said farmers could get support from Nigeria Seed Council, Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development and Bank of Agriculture.
He said presently, Nigeria Seed Council is giving out cocoa pods to farmers. In Seed Council each pod of cocoa is sold at N300. After the third year, farmers should get between 1.5 to 2 tonnes per hectare.
States where cocoa can grow
He said in Nigeria, more than 10 states can grow cocoa, including Edo, Ondo, Oyo, Ogun, Osun, Ekiti, Cross River, Akwa Ibom, Kwara, Kogi, among others. All these states can produce cocoa successfully.