Agriculture was the mainstay of Nigeria’s economy before the discovery of crude oil.
From 1960 to 1969, the sector accounted for an average of 57.0 per cent of GDP and generated 64.5 per cent of export earnings. From 1970 to the late 2000s, the sector’s contribution to GDP and export earnings steadily declined, because Nigeria’s focus shifted to petroleum.
However, Cocoa was a major agricultural export commodity in Nigeria, and a top foreign exchange earner in the 1950s and 60s. Prior to the discovery of crude oil in commercial quantities in the 1970s, Nigeria was the world’s second-largest producer of cocoa.
Unfortunately, Nigeria’s average cocoa production declined from 420,000 tons in the 60s to 170,000 tons in 1999. Production rose to 389,272 tons between 2000 and 2010, but declined to 192,000 tons in 2015 and 2016. Nigeria dropped to fourth place in the global ranking this period. However, Nigeria is currently the sixth largest producer of this commodity.
Recently, during a national broadcast to commemorate the Nigerian “Democracy Day”, President Muhammadu Buhari said Nigeria’s revenue from cocoa and sesame seeds has increased by $79.4 million and $153 million respectively in the past year.
“Our efforts on growing non-oil exports have started to yield some results. For instance, in the past year, our revenue from cocoa and sesame seed increased by $79.4 million and $153 million,” he said.
Mid–crop harvest, cocoa farmers lament
Nigerian cocoa farmers, who spoke with PREMIUM TIMES in late August, have, however, raised alarm over the continuous dwindling of production which they attributed to lack of adequate support from the government and seizure of rainfall in August, as mid-crop harvest commences.
He said the rainfall was rather very low, but that farmers are still optimistic, looking at the forecast from the Nigerian Meteorological department.
“There will be rainfall in the remaining season, but the mid crop harvest has already started in earnest and hopefully we will be given our percentage production, but that has cut our mid-crop forecast by almost half,” he added.
Mr Rima said cocoa farmers are poorly treated in Nigeria, and that they are not accorded the right support as at and when due.
“Cocoa that should be treated with utmost priority is being treated with levity and not given the attention that it deserves,” he said.
“The farmers never got palliatives, like we should expect from other sectors. Cocoa farmers should have been given palliatives, but I’m not sure any farmer will tell you that they’ve gotten any palliative that is meant for the sector,” he added.
Before now, the Nigerian government had flagged off the distribution of about 66, 000 cocoa seedlings and other essential inputs to smallholder farmers in the bid to mitigate the effects of the coronavirus pandemic on the sector.
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This, the CAN president described, as a right step in the right direction, but that it came in rather late.
“We create the resources and get nothing from it. We’re the geese with the golden eggs and we do not even have quail eggs to eat,” he said.
“Cocoa has not really been featured in the Anchor Borrowers’ Scheme, all because we keep asking for a good gestation period,” Mr Rima said in frustration.
“Cocoa might be getting some attention, but I’m not sure for those who have gone in, if there have been any payment to any cocoa farmers yet,” he added.
Checks by PREMIUM TIMES revealed that cocoa farmers in these regions (Ondo and Cross River states), do not have access to subvention or soft loans from the federal government, despite cocoa being among the mandate crop of the federal government’s Anchor Borrowers’ Programme (ABP).
In November 2015, President Muhammadu Buhari launched the ABP to provide farm inputs in kind and cash to small-holder farmers (SHFs) to boost agricultural production and for the country to reverse its negative balance of payments on food.
Farmers captured under this programme include those cultivating cereals, cotton, roots and tubers, sugarcane, tree crops (cocoa, rubber, oil palm, etc.) legumes, tomato and livestock.
The loans are disbursed through any of the Deposit Money Banks (DMBs), Development Finance Institutions (DFIs) and Microfinance Banks (MFBs), all of which the programme recognises as Participating Financial Institutions (PFIs).
According to the guidelines of the programme, upon harvest, benefiting farmers are expected to repay their loans with harvested produce, which must cover the loan principal and interest, to an ‘anchor’, who pays the cash equivalent to the farmer’s account.
When contacted in March before the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic in Nigeria, the spokesperson of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Isaac Okoroafor, told this reporter that under the Anchor Borrowers’ Programme, the sum of N2.45 billion has been disbursed to cocoa farmers.
He said the apex bank has also supported cocoa farmers under its other initiatives, namely; Commercial Agricultural Credit Scheme (CACS): N2 billion, Nigerian Export Stimulation Fund: N1.5 billion and Differentiated Cash Reserve Requirement: N5 billion,” he said.
“The loans are ongoing and we can’t disburse directly to the farmers except through their banks,” he added.
According to PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), an international auditing firm, Ondo State, being the largest cocoa producing state in Nigeria, has an output capacity of about 77,000 tons annually.
Odo aladura is one of several communities that earned the state the ranking.
However, the dwindling fortunes of farmers in the community is fast reducing production.
When PREMIUM TIMES spoke with Adesoro Grace, a famous cocoa farmer in the settlement, she said farmers are currently harvesting. She however, highlighted that the temporary seizure of rainfall is affecting the ripening, fruiting and production of cocoa.
“Look at all these empty spaces within the trunks of these cocoa trees. They are supposed to be bearing cocoa fruits, but due to lack of rainfall and proper chemical treatment, they’re all bare, and it’s not good for us,” she lamented.