In this interview with FEMI IBIROGBA, Head, Agro-Economy Desk, DR OLAYIWOLA OLUBAMIWA, the Director/Chief Executive of the Cocoa Research Institute of Nigeria (CRIN), Ibadan, Oyo State, (with the mandate covering cocoa, cashew, coffee, kola and tea) explains the challenges of cash crop production, especially cocoa, to include absence of a board and poor value chain development. He equally suggests a number of solutions to transform the sector for real economic diversification.
• Institute lists challenges, says tissue culture tech to revolutionise seedling production
Cocoa production has remained abysmally low, lower than what Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire produce. What are the challenges? How can they be overcome?
Nigeria’s current annual cocoa production is put at 367,000 tonnes annually. Comparatively, Cote d’Ivoire produces 1.48 million tonnes. Ghana’s output is 834,000 tonnes.
The comparatively poor production level of cocoa in Nigeria is due to many factors. Major among these is the non-existence of cocoa commodity board. The erstwhile Cocoa Board was scrapped in 1987. Things have never been the same since. Nigeria was second world producer until the early 70s. Nigeria’s production declined from 420,000 tonnes in the 1960s to 170,000 tonnes in 1999.
With the efforts of the National Cocoa Development Committee (NCDC), production moved from 170,000 tonnes in 1999 to around 350,000 in 2006. Present production level is 367,000, bringing Nigeria to the fourth global position. Nigeria cannot run away from the issue of a coordinating body if it wants to move forward.
Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana which did not abolish their coordinating bodies produce multiple times of Nigeria’s output. The story does not end there. Ghana’s cocoa is rated prime because of the quality.
The existence of Ghana Cocoa Board is vastly responsible for this. Secondly, Nigerian cocoa trees and farmers are old. The age brackets of the two are the same, over an average of 50 years. The NCDC and the Cocoa Transformation Agenda (CoCTA) did a lot of rehabilitation of old trees but the efforts need to be beefed up. Replanting is also germane if we are serious at moving forward. Here, I wish to sound a serious note of warning. Our aspiration to match up to the production levels of Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana will remain a wishful thinking unless we do the needful.
CRIN has developed improved and early maturing varieties (TC1-8) that can transform our production level. The varieties yield some three to five times (1.5-2.0 tonnes per ha). The old materials in use by our farmers yield 300–400 kg per ha. In essence, with higher productivity and great tolerance to diseases, the TC1-8 is the wand in our hands. However, there is a big gap between having these materials in our hands and having them practically on Nigeria’s cocoa farms.
The conventional propagation method of nursery production of the seedlings cannot translate to much productivity in decades. For instance, an injection of 10 million seedlings yearly will add just 13,500 tonnes yearly after the initial two-three years. We have to move to tissue culture production.
Tens of millions of mini-sets can be produced if CRIN has embryogenesis equipment. We need some N70 millon for this. The federal government will be plowing aright if we’re thus enabled to procure the equipment for CRIN. Until this is done, we cannot achieve much.
Thirdly, there is need to urgently do something about the old age of cocoa farmers. Though some youths have come into cocoa production, the in-flow is low and slow. We at CRIN have a suggestion. The nation should consider establishing a Cocoa School at CRIN. The plantations and planting materials are here. We also have the experts. The different departments – Entomology, Breeding, Pathology, Agronomy, Soil and Plant Nutrition, Product Utilisation, Economics and Extension, etc., are on ground. The school will train participants full time for one to two years on the A-Z of cocoa production. As a means of Youth Employment Drive, the school fees should be greatly discounted. Our willing young graduates can be started on this programme. The graduates should be assisted by the state governments on land issue, while a designated loan strategy should be put in place.
Furthermore, fertilizer usage is limited on Nigeria cocoa farms. Research studies have proven the worth of fertilizer for cocoa productivity. Fortunately and timely too, Nigeria, through the efforts of some private sector partners, is currently studying the design of appropriate fertilizer for cocoa in Nigeria. The formulation will vary from place to place. The programme is at an advanced stage.
You said CRIN needs a tissue culture lab to revolutionise seedling production. What are the components of an embryogenesis (tissue culture) lab and how much do they cost?
To set up an effective tissue culture (somatic embryogenesis laboratory, we need about N70 million. This estimate includes the cost of equipment, reagents, consumables and manpower development to make the laboratory operational.
Can you briefly explain the tissue culture cocoa seedling process?
The tissue culture technique is one of the biotechnology systems, which provides a fast and highly efficient method for the propagation of superior cocoa varieties selected in breeding programmes. They can ensure availability of improved planting materials to farmers on regular basis.
Somatic embryogenesis system is a laboratory (artificial) process in which plants are derived from ordinary plant cells or tissues. It is a rapid means of producing high yielding planting materials (seedlings) that are disease-free on a large scale. The cells of explants first undergo callus proliferation. Embryoids develop within the tissue from induced embryonic cells. These can be multiplied rapidly through the TIBS and advanced for plantlets formation. The plantlets formed will later be transferred to the controlled greenhouse for acclimatisation.
The Cocoa Association of Nigeria (CAN) said about 16 cocoa firms have closed operations and around 100,000 jobs lost in the last 10 years. What are the issues?
The closure of cocoa producing companies is not a recent development. It came about some years back when the government declared a total ban on exportation of raw cocoa beans and other raw materials to encourage local grinding.
This brought about a lot of influx of processors into the cocoa industry. However, this policy/ban was later reviewed and the free export of cocoa continued and became competitive between the international buyers and the local grinders.
The local grinders could not compete favourably and this brought about insufficient cocoa supply. As enumerated earlier, it is possible that some of the local processors will have enough cocoa beans if there is an increase in cocoa production. The closure of cocoa industries has also been inexplicably affected by other factors, including recession and management factors within the various organisations.
The CoCTA agenda on cocoa some years back intended to double cocoa production with improved seedlings. Why have we not got good results?
The initial effort was to distribute pods free to farmers and for them to receive necessary inputs through an enhancement scheme. On this programme, CRIN distributed about 650,000 pods to farmers across the nation. Currently, the government is subsidising the price of pods.
This price has been brought down by 80% from N300 to N60 per pod. State governments complained of lack of logistics to distribute the pods to farmers. Another approach is through the cooperatives. CRIN is also looking at tissue culture techniques for raising seedlings and transportation to community nurseries nearer the local farmers. This is a way of distributing the seedlings directly to meet demands.
Cocoa and cashew are major crops that CAN says can replace oil in foreign exchange earnings. Can these crops and others really do so?
Cocoa and cashew are major crops that can replace oil for foreign exchange earnings. Before oil, Nigeria depended on cocoa for foreign exchange earnings. If Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire succeeded, Nigeria too can. If Nigeria can increase its production and diversify into value addition as Cote d’Ivoire does currently, cocoa can replace oil in forex earnings. Cashew is another tree crop that has great potential to generate income to farmers and the nation in terms of foreign exchange earnings. Fortunately, the crop can be grown in 27 state of Nigeria.
How can cocoa farmers access more improved seedlings at CRIN?
Production is done based on demand. Improved seedlings are readily available. Farmers are expected to order for seedlings around October/November. Collection for planting will be in April/May of every year. Apart from the headquarters in Ibadan, seedlings and pods are also available in CRIN substations. These are Owena in Ondo State, Ajassor in Cross River State and Ibeku in Abia State. The current rate is N100/seedling and N300/pod.