Experts in the export value chain and cocoa farmers have expressed regret over the neglect of the cocoa industry, calling on the Federal and State governments to support the private sector to boost production and enhance the value of the product.
The stakeholders spoke at the SHIPS & PORTS Virtual Dialogue with the theme, “Maximising the Gains of Nigeria’s Cocoa Export” hosted in Lagos on Tuesday.
Outgoing President, Cocoa Association of Nigeria (CAN), Sayina Riman, noted that Nigeria was once the highest producer of cocoa in the world, but the commodity suffered neglect after the discovery of crude oil. To revive the sector, Riman advocated that five percent of the oil revenue be ploughed back to the cocoa industry.
The CAN President identified lack of finance, Nigeria’s low production per hectare, neglect of extension service and lack of encouragement for youth participation in farming as some of the factors responsible for the constant decline of Nigeria’s cocoa output.
He said, “Cocoa built the foundation of the oil industry and it sustained the economy in time past, but because of the discovery of oil which cocoa money was used to build, what we have seen today is the total neglect of the industry. Cocoa is now being priced internationally because it is not a product of concern. Internationally cocoa is being priced because those who produce cocoa do not consume it and those who consume it cannot produce it at a competitive price.
“One of the biggest challenges of the industry is total neglect. Finances are not given as at when needed for the industry. How many banks will be ready to give out loans for tree crop development? As much as CBN pushes them, they still give you facility to pay in 24 months at most. How can a farmer take facility and grow cocoa within 24 months and start repaying a loan?
“Cocoa farmers and the private sectors have not failed the country but the country has failed those who still produce what we still call the golden egg. If cocoa has given so much to Nigeria, what has Nigeria given into cocoa?”
Riman noted that the cocoa sector still has the potential to be one of the country’s strongest employers of labour if given the attention it deserves.
Managing Director, Multimix Academy, Dr. Obiora Madu, who also decried government’s neglect of the cocoa sector, stated that the country cannot get it right with the sector without paying attention to value addition through processing rather than pride itself as raw cocoa exporters.
“Cocoa used to be the mainstay of Nigeria export in the days of Cocoa House in Ibadan, and Cocoa Research Institute but things fell apart after structural adjustment and the commodity board was the first victim of that. It has not been easy for that industry. What we are getting as value out of the chocolate industry is probably three percent, which is sad and the obvious reason why we are lagging behind is neglect by the government. As long as we keep exporting raw cocoa, we are also exporting jobs along with it and you get peanuts also in the market.
“Each time they say the oil prices go down to a frightening level, everybody starts scampering and talking about non-oil export but once it starts to pick up a little everybody just forgets that they ever mentioned that. So the point is that it is neglect,” he said.
Madu said poor logistics infrastructure, which is adding to the cost of exports and the aging of most cocoa trees in Nigeria also contributes to low production farmers are experiencing.
“To derive benefits, we need to process and for you to process, you need an environment that allows that. Currently, logistics infrastructure is adding additional cost to export so much so that for some of the commodities as some point in time, the local commodity price is higher than the international market price,” he added.
On his part, the Executive Secretary, Institute of Export Operations and Management, Ofon Udofia, noted the need for the government to partner with the private sector to assist farmers in terms of training to enable them get the needed certification that would meet international standards.
“It is high time the government partnered with the private sector. There is a gap and that gap is not helping us in the sense that even though we want to produce chocolate and send to the world market, how many farmers in Nigeria have access to essential services and then certification? How many cocoa farms are certified? In as much as they want to buy from us, we have over 220 voluntary standards that must be followed for the products to enter the international market. So the government should assist farmers get the needed certification to enable them sell well,” he said.
The Deputy Director, Production Development of Nigerian Export Promotion Council (NEPC), Abimbola Salami, who also spoke on the programme, highlighted some of the incentives being provided by the council to boost cocoa production in the country.