Cocoa economy: Challenges of getting agricultural diversification right
Cocoa, the agricultural gold in the pod, continues to solve the substantial part of the economic challenges of nations that have committed themselves to exploiting all parts of its value chain. Ghana, Cote D’Voire and even Sierra Leone, though on a lower scale, are clear examples.
Not so with Nigeria, that has vast plantations, farmlands and huge potential of making it back as a leading cocoa producing and exporting country in the world.
The demand for the commodity and its value-added products is estimated to reach five million metric tonnes by 2020. In terms of cocoa beans, it will add up to an additional one million metric tonnes above the figure of 2012-13. Tapping into this opportunity, no doubt would take away some measure of economic burden from the large population of the unemployed.
U.S. Consul General, Jeffrey Hawkins, in an address to the December 2014 Cocoa Summit in Lagos reaffirmed the fact that the country has the “knowledge and capability to assist in the renewal of Nigeria’s cocoa industry,” He said although the appetite for chocolate consumption around the world cannot be satisfied, the country, so far, is not effectively strategising to take advantage of the opportunities available to her.
Nigeria should not continue to drink from the cup of pity and lamentations, but rise from the ashes of lack of political will to assume its place as a top player in global cocoa economy. The immediate past administration at the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (FMARD) may not have achieved as much in cocoa as it did in some other subsectors in the Agricultural Transformation Agenda (ATA), but it left a strategy document.
According to Dr. Peter Aikpokpodion, former Team Leader, Cocoa Transformation Agenda (CocTA PLAN), the plan should be visited by the present administration, do a review if necessary and put into execution to expand the diversification scope.
The world outlook for cocoa trade, according to stakeholders at the cocoa conference, is very bright. With the emerging economies such as India and China into the luxury of chocolate consumption lately, in addition the increasing demand by existing markets in already developed nations, the projection is that demand is rising more than the commodity is produced.
Food scientists say that the darker the chocolate, the more of cocoa there is in the content, the more health-enhancing ingredients and the costlier the product. Incidentally, market trends have also shown that more consumers in the rich west want the darker chocolate because they can afford it.
Ambassador Hawkins told cocoa stakeholders that with a rise in demand, international buyers are apprehensive of an impending shortage in volume of cocoa supply by 2020. The implication of that is; there would be the right interplay of the forces of demand and supply with the effect of rise in price, an advantage to exporters of the commodity.
There was a 25 per cent rise in 2013, according to the envoy, but much more perplexing is that nothing much has changed about Nigeria’s cocoa.
Hawkins left the stakeholders solutions with which they were already quite conversant: “improved access to inputs, finance and investment, technology, and technical assistance to raise quality are all part of the solution.” Again, making a reminder that youth employment should be given all the attention, he emphasised the need for government and private sector players to grab the opportunity of the moment to make the nation’s agribusiness bustle again.
Aikpokpodion, in the package of the Ministry with the former Minister, agreed as part of the cocoa campaign that initial steps be taken to rehabilitate 200,000 hectares of cocoa farm over a period of four years. It would require an aggressive plan and effective partnership with the private sector using skilled professionals called Professional Cocoa Doctors and Grafters over the same period. While the subsector continues to contend with multi-faceted challenges such as much of manual labour and little or no mechanisation, the concentration of business in hands of families and individuals, farmers are not getting commensurate income for their efforts.
On the marketing front, the local farmers are not faring better, and the buying agents as well as exporters, are compounding issues. According to the former Cocoa Transformation Team leader, sharp practices need be curbed, but things would look much better when there is a controlling body to oversee the affairs of stakeholders along the value chain – agronomic practices, processing, grading and quality control among others.