Agriculture was once the main source for Nigeria’s economy and it provided employment for over 70% of the population, but when oil was discovered it meant that the agriculture sector took a massive hit.
Gone are the days when the profits from cocoa sales was ploughed into improving education, infrastructure, general development and health services. As oil stock rose, it meant the decline and neglect of Nigeria’s cocoa industry since the 1970s.
Cocoa House, situated in Ibadan, in the south-west region of Nigeria, was once the cocoa capital of West Africa, but due to negligence, it has since gone to ruins. Now a shadow of its former self, the building with its faded paint, weak roofing and empty offices is the physical embodiment of the cocoa industry in Nigeria. Nigeria used to have more than 20 processing factories, but due to poor electricity supply and other amenities, it has had to be cut back to three factories which further magnifies the extreme neglect.
“Cocoa House used to be the glory of the west, if you go there now, it’s an eyesore with all sorts of characters loitering in the area.” Olusina Adebiyi, former Cocoa House clerk.
The abandonment has caused farmers to lose their crops to pests and black pod disease, a fungus that affects cacao trees, as they had limited or no access to better seedlings.
In 2016 the cocoa production in Nigeria was 237,000 tonnes, according to data from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization. Other West African nations have done miles better in comparison, Ivory Coast produced 1.47 million tonnes and Ghana 859,000 tonnes.
The stats seem dire and irreparable, however, experts and scientists alike believe Nigeria can boost production with improved seedlings, fertilisers, new farming methods, pesticides and better coordination among research bodies. The much-needed attention will do more to boost morale and confidence in the failing agricultural industry.
“There is great future for the industry in Nigeria, farmers can be assisted to raise output from an average of 300 kg per hectare to 800 kg per hectare to boost their productivity and income.”
“What is needed is concerted effort by all the stakeholders on how to provide farming materials to farmers to boost their output.” Ranjana Bhattacharjee, International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA).
Nigeria could perhaps take a closer look at the success of Ivory Coast, Ghana, and others, and consider emulating and hopefully repeating their success in the processing of cocoa beans into chocolate and other products to earn more money.
The Government has taken note of this and, along with the Cocoa Association of Nigeria (CAN), has set out a 10-year action plan to boost the agriculture sector. The Buhari administration wants to revive agriculture even more so as a result of the massive drop in crude oil prices, which has negated the country’s economy.
“We have made laudable recommendations that can change the cocoa story in Nigeria, we hope those recommendations will be faithfully implemented in the interests of the industry.” CAN President Sayina Riman.
Young people’s lack of interest in agriculture could also be playing a part in the failing industry and could be an area for the government to look at, perhaps looking at the curriculum, and giving it a more appealing makeover, could ensure young people take an interest in learning about the sector and perhaps studying it in higher education with the view of carving out a career in it. But with the lack of funding currently in the industry, this sector remains unattractive for the young and mature.
President Buhari and Audu Ogbeh, Minister of Agriculture have said at a summit that reviving Nigeria’s cocoa industry is vital and imperative, its revival will help diversify the country’s economy and ensure they no longer solely rely on crude oil and will also make room for foreign investors. The government admitted that the sector has suffered neglect as a result of over-reliance on crude oil, adding that this led to a decline in the country’s annual production from 420,000 metric tonnes in the 60s to 192,000 metric tonnes in 2015.
“The consequence is Nigeria’s drop from fourth to seventh position in global cocoa production. The summit is therefore expected to address this trend so as to put the country back to its prime position.” President Muhammadu Buhari.