By Vincent Nwanma (Lagos), Eyo Charles (Calabar) & Bola Ojuola (Akure)
Nigeria, the world’s fifth largest cocoa producer, could see its bean production drop in the new season due to the impact of weather conditions and rising costs of inputs, farmers and industry, said the operators.
The 2021/22 harvest begins next month with the main season, but production could drop 5 to 10 percent of last year’s production, Robo Adhuze, managing director of the Center for Cocoa Initiative, an Akure-based company An NGO that promotes the cocoa trade in Nigeria, told Daily Trust on Sunday.
Although he attributed the expected drop in part to weather conditions, he says the negative impact stems from the long drought last year. The dry season, he said, put pressure on cocoa trees.
“It was dry last year for a long time. It puts a lot of stress on the trees. They had to put more effort into producing last year. This means that this year will be under this pressure, ”explained Adhuze.
For several years, cocoa has been Nigeria’s second largest source of foreign exchange, after crude oil. In 2018, Nigeria’s cocoa revenues were estimated at over 103 billion naira. The country produced around 270,000 metric tonnes last year, in the year 2020/21, compared to 250,000 in the 2019/20 season. Adhuze said this year’s production could drop to 250,000.
Farmers, traders and other stakeholders in the cocoa industry said the expected drop in production could further lower Nigeria’s global and regional ranking in cocoa production. Nigeria’s current fifth position reflects a downgrade from its previously third position, just behind Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana a few years ago. Now the country also follows Ecuador and Cameroon among producers.
Recent production figures indicate that Côte d’Ivoire produced over 2 million metric tonnes last year while Ghana produced nearly one million tonnes. While Cameroon is ahead of Nigeria in terms of cocoa production, some sources say it is now difficult to quantify its production due to the war in the south of that country, where cocoa is widely cultivated.
However, Adhuze said Cameroon’s cocoa was flowing freely into Nigeria from the southern part. “They are not smuggling cocoa into Nigeria, they are transporting cocoa to Nigeria.”
In Cross River State, Nigeria’s second-largest cocoa-producing state, farmers and other industry players who have spoken about their prospects for next season, said this year’s impending poor harvests could also have an impact on the costs of beverages, related products as well as returns to investors who have financed local or small cocoa producers.
Those of them who have borrowed money from lenders, including banks, as many normally do to help farmers cultivate or maintain their plantations in order to hope for bountiful returns, are already worried, have they declared.
Farmers in Ikom, the state’s main cocoa town, fear that insufficient rainfall could reduce production for the new season. They are especially worried that most of their cocoa trees are old and their strength may not yield much unless there is enough rain.
The old age of Nigerian cocoa trees has indeed a negative impact on production, says Adhuze. The expected drop in production would have been greater had it not been for the fact that some new plantations entered commercial production this year. “Otherwise, if it were just the same old cocoa trees, the drop could be as much as 12 to 15%,” he said.
Cocoa merchant Godwin Okwu agrees with other stakeholders, saying they can’t expect much in terms of cocoa yield this year due to the very low rainfall.
“Rain is an important factor in the yield of cocoa. In our state, most of our cocoa plantations are over 40 years old. Our cocoa is old. The estates were planted when Sir Michael Okpara was the prime minister of the former Eastern region in the mid-1960s. The estates therefore need a lot of rainfall to be healthy, ”Okwu said.
“Young farms are doing better because they still have the energy to withstand the drought. At first glance, the promises of better cocoa yields this year are slim because until this time of year we don’t have reasonable rainfall. As a result, farmers may not reach the breakeven point.
In Ondo State, Nigeria’s largest cocoa-producing state, a farmer, Alhaji Idris Fatai, admitted that last year’s dry season affected this year’s production.
While Alhaji ldris said this year’s rain has been encouraging, an indication that production will be good, Adhuze noted that the impact of this year’s weather could be felt next year.
Besides the weather, farmers say they have also been challenged by the rising prices of the chemicals they use on the farmer. The chemicals are used to treat various diseases that attack cocoa trees and pods. Among these, the black pod disease which, as its name suggests, attacks the pod.
Responding to inquiries, cocoa farmer Richard Ndoma, 51, from Akparabong community in Ikom, said that apart from the rain and poor accessibility of funds, inadequate inputs like produce chemicals to attack the enemies of cocoa are rare.
The chemicals, he said, are no longer within the reach of local farmers.
“The lack of money to buy cocoa-based chemicals is a big factor. Chemicals like Nodox, Cocobra sandbox, rodomile, bluestone, used for disease prevention including black pods and fungicides have become expensive. As a result, their prices have skyrocketed so this is something to be very concerned about. “
“Seven years ago, a bag of Rodomile was sold for 250 N, now it’s N600. The sachet of Cocoa Bra Sandos, which sold about 5 years ago for N100, now costs N400. One 50 kg of BlueStone used to get rid of black pods is worth 20,000 N compared to 50,000 N at the same time earlier.
Ndoma also complained about the high cost of labor to cultivate, maintain and weed the farms.
Mr Olayiwola Saibu, who owns a farm in the Ibuji agricultural settlement in the local government area of Ifedore in Ondo state, told Daily Trust on Sunday that farmers pay each worker between 170,000 and 200 000 N per year to work on the farm. “We also feed and clothe the workers,” he said.
Ndoma corroborated Saibu’s claim. “The high cost of feeding workers while they are on the plantations is not easy. Usually, when workers are working on the plantation, the farm owner is expected to provide food and medicine to the workers while they wait for them to finish the job, ”he explained.
He said the problem of transporting cocoa pods after harvest to the plantations and then breaking them to places where the beans can be dried for later sale is something that gives every cocoa farmer a lot of concern. .
Farmers in Ondo face similar challenges, they said. According to Saibu, the lack of access roads to farms, especially during the harvest season, forces farmers to frequent commercial motorcyclists, which costs more than using buses.
Those stakeholders who spoke about the country’s prospects argued that this year’s impending poor harvests could also impact the costs of beverages, related products as well as the incomes of those who financed local farmers or smallholders. operators.
Small cocoa farmers, for example, who had borrowed money from lenders, including banks, as many normally do to help them cultivate or maintain their plantations in order to hope for bountiful returns, have already the heart in the mouth.
Okwu stressed that lack of access to finance is another factor that farmers face, and called on the government not to focus solely on collecting rents and dues, but creating an environment that facilitates ‘access to funds for farmers.
He advised that in order to regenerate cocoa plantations, farmers should plant younger, high-yielding varieties near or between older ones, instead of cutting down older trees. “Then, in three to four years, brand new farms full of vitality would emerge. Young farms will then be able to bring in a lot, ”he noted.
The governments of Ondo and Cross River have shown determination to support the cocoa industry in the states.
Governor Ayade’s Special Advisor for Cocoa Development and Control Oscar Ofuka said that following the government-initiated cocoa revolution, Cross River will soon become a major cocoa producer in Africa, and not just in Nigeria. He said cocoa is the state’s gold mine, adding that the outlook for cocoa is very high.
The state’s cocoa processing plant in Ikom, the state’s cocoa stronghold, recently began producing chocolate bars and related products in commercial quantities.
Taoj Nigeria Limited last week received N80 million from Sterling Bank to boost the cocoa agribusiness in the state. NIRSAL plc has facilitated and guaranteed the facility and will provide technical assistance and 24 hour credit application monitoring.
For his part, Ondo is in the process of retaining his first place on the cocoa table of the country.
Governor Rotimi Akeredolu recently reiterated his administration’s commitment to boost cocoa production. He announced that the government had cleared 10,000 hectares of land in Jugbere in the Owo local government area for cocoa cultivation.