LAGOS – Following the discovery of oil that changed the country’s cash crops narrative of the 60’s, Nigeria is yet to recover and take its proper place among the comity of cocoa and palm oil producing nations.
Since the discovery of crude oil, Nigeria lost its position as one of the world’s largest palm oil producers, pushing Indonesia and Malaysia to become global leaders in oil palm production while Ivory Coast and Ghana are taking the lead in cocoa production.
According to stakeholders, the country’s palm oil production is estimated be one million metric tonnes annually, according to stakeholders and international production data, while the local demand is put at 2.5 million metric tonnes, which puts the supply gap at 1.5 million metric tonnes.
The major oil palm producing states include; Enugu, Imo, Ondo, Edo, Cross River, Delta, Akwa Ibom, Ekiti, Bayelsa, Rivers, Anambra, Oyo, Abia, Edo and Ogun State.
In cocoa, the yearly production reduced from about 300,000 metric tonnes in 2013/2014 to about 245,000 metric tonnes in 2019/2020 season.
Cocoa is been produced in states such as; Ondo, Cross River, Ogun, Akwa Ibom, Ekiti, Delta, Osun, Edo, and Oyo. Others are Kwara, Abia, Nasarawa, Taraba, Zamfara, Kogi and Benue states.
Nigeria’s apex bank, Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), disclosed that as at April 2020, it had disbursed N34.34 billion to major oil palm companies, with a plan to plant new 100,000 hectares of Palm trees by 2025, starting with 20,000 hectares in 2020.
It says the oil palm industry is a goldmine that has the potential to grow the economy through its value chain.
Cocoa farmers association has also disclosed that CBN has released over N700 million to 1,221 cocoa farmers in 10 producing states, with each farmer taking about N592,332 for maintenance and good agriculture practices that would increase their productivity from about 350kg of cocoa beans per hectare.
Stakeholders in cocoa and oil palm in separate interviews,said that the interventions and the focus on the cash crop production and the value chain is a right step in the right direction, and that it would bring back the pre-oil boom era and economic diversification.
Igwe Hillary Uche, President of the Oil Palm Growers Association of Nigeria (OPGAN), said that CBN intervention will lift Nigeria up if it is well taken.
“Most times people working in the bank do not know what is happening in the field; their fear is always about “what if the farmers do not pay back the money” but in Nigeria now we should not be talking about that because with CBN support to farmers it will develop the country and the nation’s economy will be better for it.
“I believe very strongly that the CBN intervention will help the country because we are planning it, and we are working with the apex bank.
“We have been able to cluster the farmers into groups so that the money will be judiciously used if given to them,”
Uche advocated that farmers need to be empowered with bunch thresher and bunch sterilizer, stressing that if the farmers could have access to these equipment, there will be no option than to continue production.
“If it can be supplied to them as loan in their various clusters, it will go a long way to control the cash,” he said.
Uche added that these equipment will assists the smallholders farmers who are the ones producing for the country as he said that the big companies which are foreign companies have no impact on the nation’s economy.
“These small holders are the ones that produce for Nigeria’s consumption and export, and so any support to them will give back to Nigeria,” he stated.
Also, Mohammed Tahir, of Plantation Owners Forum of Nigeria (POFON), stated that the intervention will have a positive impact on the industry and the nation’s economy.
He said dealing with oil palm require patience and capital, stating that the Anchors Borrowers Programme was designed like an overdraft which is meant for crops like maize, rice and other one year crops.
“When they came to implement it in oil palm, that is almost four years ago, we told them it will not work for oil palm and other cash crops like cocoa, rubber and so on because they have long gestation periods, so we talked and lately they came back and understood what we are talking about.
“We said you cannot give cash crop farmer money and ask him to bring it next year when the plant is just beginning to come up. It takes at least five years, some will take at least four years that has been the topic of discussion with CBN, and we are able to come up with models for oil palm and that was the preparation we put together,” he said.
Tahir further stated that there a lot of issues on tenure and moratorium and eventually after a long period the programme started.
“We are not talking about mega oil palm estate, we are talking about out-growers farmers that have two hectares; we have so many of them. The productivity is very low in the kind of seeds they have, so we are asking them to plant the dura and tenera that will give them better yields in the future,” he added.
He noted that the apex bank is doing a good work by lending money for long gestation crops which is the way to go as it is capable of attracting people into the programme.
Similarly, stakeholders in the cocoa sector also made their position on the intervention known.
Adeola Adegoke, President, Cocoa Farmers Association of Nigeria (CFAN), said the intervention is the most interesting thing to happen to the cocoa industry in the last 30 years.
“The truth is that it is a direct investment into cocoa production and productivity of the smallholder farmers, and this greatly contributes to per hectare production and also increases the income of the smallholder farmers.
“It creates wealth because with the injection of the fund the farmers are able to take care of their cocoa trees especially when it comes to Good Agricultural Practices (GAP).
Adegoke added that at the end of the day, the increase in farmers’ income will invariably make the government to be able to get more money on cocoa level which gives additional GDP to the nation’s economy.
He said what the farmers are currently producing as an average per tonnage is between 350-400kg whereas in Ghana and Ivory Coast they produce about 800-1000kg.
“Invariably you will look at the trend of the gap in terms of what a farmer in Nigeria is earning per hectare in comparison to what a farmer averagely is earning in Ghana or in Ivory Coast or Indonesia.
“Also if you look at the position of Nigeria, earlier we are number two in cocoa production in the world, but today we are in the eight position. With this injection it will increase our production and our rating.
He thereby, commended President Muhammadu Buhari, who has graciously allowed the CBN Governor to intervene and change the cocoa production sector by making the farmers to invariably constitute 99 percent of the producer.
“We have less than five percent commercial farmers in cocoa; what we have are for the smallholder farmers, so the injection of the fund into cocoa production is in the right direction because it is a fund of revolution.
“The beneficiaries in the 10 producing states which are; Ondo, Edo, Cross Rivers, Ekiti, Osun, Kwara, Ogun, Oyo, Delta and Abia will witness an increase from the 350-400kg we are currently witnessing to about 600-700kg.
“We will enjoy it because the loan is about 18months loan. It targets two seasons, and if we can move with this first tranche to move our production from 350kg to 600-700kg averagely it will trickle down to our overall production,” he added.
Adegoke further stated that he believed that such interventions would help to restore Nigeria to path of cocoa productivity.
However, Mufutau Abolarinwa, National President Cocoa Association of Nigeria (CAN), said that the CBN has not given money to any cocoa farmer that though they wanted to, but they are looking for a modality to do it, as the apex bank intends to use the Anchors Borrowed method to do it.
“Because of the gestation period that is up to four or five years for harvesting, it has always been a difficult situation for them.
“CBN is only looking for a way to come in through cocoa farm maintenance, that is where they want to come in, but for now I don’t know and I know I should know; most of the exporters and processors which I am their President, I am fully aware that they have not given them money for the cocoa plantation, but the CBN is in pipeline like we had discussion in June through zoom but not yet in operation,” he said.
Abolarinwa, while speaking on challenges facing cocoa farmers, said access to good input and for government to provide enabling environment in their various farms in terms of security have been the bane in the sector.