Adedeji Rasheed, the Director of Cocoa Research Department of Cocoa Research Institute of Nigeria (CRIN) believes Nigeria can return to the glory days of leadership in cocoa production. In this interview with Abdulkareem Mojeed, he spoke on the problems facing the cocoa value chain and current solutions being effected to revive the sector. Excerpts:
PT: At what point do you think Nigeria lost leadership in cocoa production?
Adedeji: Before Nigeria discovered oil, cocoa was the number one foreign exchange commodity and from there a lot of things was achieved, by then western region of Nigeria. Things like University of Ife, Liberty stadium, NTA and so on. Nigeria got it wrong the time we discovered petroleum. It seems easier to get money from petroleum than agriculture. We abandoned agriculture, many farmers abandoned their farms.
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In agriculture, when your crop is becoming old and the productivity is coming down, you need to replant and rehabilitate all those ones that are jettisoned. Just as we know that any plantation that is not being well taken care of, will not have the ability to produce to the maximum productivity level. That is how Nigeria lost its position as the second largest producer of cocoa in the world. It became fourth, gradually sixth and seventh.
However, the trend was challenged especially in 2011, when the then Federal Government set up National Cocoa Development Commission (NCDC). Between 2011 and 2015, CRIN gave out 601, 000 pods freely to farmers to produce seedlings from our newly developed cocoa varieties. This helped to some extent. However, the other part of the project that has to do with monitoring and evaluation were not properly done and with that, the country could not get expected results.
Later on, another government came and brought in Cocoa transformation agenda. During that period, some inputs were also provided to farmers and CRIN played a pivotal role. However, all these efforts have not been actually yielding enough results that could catapult Nigeria back to second largest cocoa producers.
PT: Your institute is supposed to help drive the sector with research as done in other countries. What major findings have they made that should be useful in driving the cocoa value chain for Nigeria?
Concerning the activities of CRIN in cocoa production, the institute was established to tackle the problem confronting the cocoa value chain all over the world. To be precise, West African Cocoa Research Institute (WACRI) was established because of Cocoa Swollen Shoot Virus (CSSV) that ravaged almost entirely the cocoa plantation in cocoa producing countries like Ghana and the rest. Since then, WACRI and later CRIN has been working on how to protect all existing cocoa plantation, how to develop new varieties, how to produce products and bye products from cocoa and how to extend the results of our findings to farmers as well as organizing farmers into cooperatives and teaching them new ways of cultivating cocoa in a profitable, sustainable and environmentally friendly manner.
In 2011, CRIN released eight new cocoa varieties, we call them T.C Series. These T. C Series varieties is so interesting when you compare its performance with what we have in the past. The latest we had before TC series had a maximum production of about 400kg/ha/yr, every other things put into place, you can’t get more than that but for the recent T.C series, the minimum production you can get per hectare per year is about 1500 kg/ha. You can even get up to 2300kg per hectare per year. The one produced before T.C series, starts fruiting after 5-7years of planting but T.C series will start producing in twenty-four months and at times it may be less than that. And these T.C series are more resistant and tolerant to diseases as well as insect pests of cocoa. All these are parts of CRIN’s contributions, and these are the backbone of the progress Nigeria has made so far on cocoa.
On the issue of adding values, from cocoa we have produced different types of bye products that we have a patent on and we have extended to entrepreneur. We have developed cocoa wine, we have developed cocoa soap, we have about four chocolates, we have cocoa butter cream, we have cocoa powder, we have cocoa bread, we have chocolate garri and so on and so forth.
We have different products and bye products like cocoa pod husk fertilizers, animal feed produced from cocoa pod husk, for pigs, livestock, rabbits and the rest. We have all these bye products produced from cocoa and we do organize training for farmers across all cocoa growing states, then we do help in establishing plantations, we collaborate with FG, state governments like Ekiti state, Cross River state, Ogun state, Ondo state and what a view.
PT: How much of partnership does CRIN have with universities and other countries like Ivory Coast and Ghana who are already getting cocoa right?
On the issue of partnership, we do not partner with government agencies alone, we also collaborate with other non-governmental agencies, universities- Olabisi Onabanjo University, University of Ibadan, University of Agriculture Abeokuta, International Institute for Tropical Agriculture (IITA) and so on and so forth.
We have different types of collaborations, some of these institutions will send their post-graduate students to come and do their research on cocoa and we co-supervised them. Some of them do extend community services to their host communities. They invite us to collaborate in the distribution of planting materials, training local dwellers on how to produce bye products from cocoa. Outside Nigeria too, we collaborate with the Cocoa Research Institute of Ghana (CRIG) and World cocoa foundation.
PT: Have these research outcomes been implemented by the government?
The reason why the results of our efforts is not that felt can be attributed to the fact that what is happening to every other thing is happening to cocoa too. Our borders are too porous. Most commodity crops are being taken out of Nigeria through back doors. Something like kola, when you go to records, most of our neighbouring countries claim to be the major producers of kola, meanwhile, it has been established that Nigeria is the major producer. When you get to our markets, you will see fairly used jute bags imported from Ghana, written there Ghana cocoa, our farmers will buy it and use to bag our cocoa then, export it through back doors. When you see that one outside the country, you will think it is a cocoa from Ghana. So a lot of things are playing out that is affecting the actual production figure value of Nigeria’s cocoa.
Another thing is lack of adequate cooperation among all players across cocoa value chains. Like I told you the other time, for instance, between 2011-2015, we gave out 601,000 pods for farmers to produce additional seedlings in order to improve upon what we have on the field. Our findings later made us establish that most of the farmers that collected thousands of cocoa pods free did not put into adequate use in producing seedlings. So, these are some of the problems the cocoa industry is facing in Nigeria. Insincerity across board, because of this, the latest support the government gave was not free. The federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development bought 8100 pods of cocoa. They subsidized it, a pod cost N300 from our end but they subsidized it to N60 per pod to farmers.
PT: What Mechanism would you use to achieve getting the inputs directly to the real farmers?
The inputs are going to be given to NGOs that are working on cocoa, farmers’ cooperative and there is a current vibrancy in the cocoa farmers Association of Nigeria. Initially we have only Cocoa Association of Nigeria (CAN). CAN comprises of farmers, input sellers and agents that are buying cocoa and the rest. But CFAN is mainly for cocoa farmers alone, and whenever support is coming, the identified and registered association are going to benefit. With this we will be able to monitor that the input support is going to make adequate use of them.
PT: Do you think Nigeria has the potential to reclaim its position in the cocoa global market?
Yes! We have the potential. Number one potential is that we have land more than any of these countries ahead of us – Cote d’voire, Ghana. We have land that is very fertile, some states are still having virgin forests. If some percentages are given to cocoa farmers and properly managed, we’ll overtake these countries. Another thing is that, we are encouraging farmers to use these new varieties we have produced to replace the old ones. Although, many farmers are finding it difficult to cut off the old cocoa trees to plant new ones, we told them to phase it out, i.e. if you have up to 10 hectares, you can start by replacing 2 hectares. When they start producing, you can be phasing out the old ones gradually in that manner. By the time all these are put in place, we’re going to have enough to overtake all the countries that have overtaken us in the global market.
So, we have the potential, the government should support research institutes more, reason being that one of our major problems is that we have enough technology on –shelf, but to get them across to farmers, the support is not all that there. If all these are put together and duly monitored as it is supposed to be monitored, we have the potential to overtake countries at the peak globally.
And there is a blessing in disguise presently in the way the price of petroleum is fluctuating in the market, it has given us that sense of looking back to agriculture to save the situation. On a daily basis farmers visit this office to get ideas, many of them are showing interest and we’re ready to partner with anybody.
PT: Cocoa farmers are lamenting about the high cost of inputs like fertilizers, seedlings, chemicals among others and lack of government support across value chains of this commodity. How will you react to this Sir?
The problem is the price. When you get to our market, because of the porosity of our system, you will get a lot of adulterated chemicals. It will interest you to know that we have ‘not for sale’ from Ghana in our market. Most of these not for sale from other countries have expired, and discarded from these countries. All these chemicals find their way to our market. When the farmers get to the market, they will see that they are very cheap, they will buy it and it will not work. Those chemicals that we’ve screened and recommended to them, they will be complaining that the prices are too high, the farmers cannot afford it. We’re appealing to the government to develop strategies of subsidizing it. They can do this by reducing tax on materials used in producing these chemicals so that the producers will produce at a cheaper rate and then sell at reduced rates to farmers. This is part of the ongoing effort.