Cocoa Farmers in Cross River lament low price, export opportunities
Cross River State cocoa farmers have decried poor pricing, lack of herbicides, processing plant, challenges with export and funding as their major challenges in the cocoa business.
Mainly, cocoa is produced in large quantity in Etung, Ikom, Boki and Obudu Local Government Areas of the state, but most of their products are grossly under priced as they do not have facilities to process and even consume the product as it is done in Ondo State and other places.
For now cocoa farmers in the state just produce and sell to middlemen without processing, as a result they find it difficult to control the price of cocoa.
The Calabar Port Challenge
Cocoa farmers in the state have lamented the shallow nature of Calabar harbour, which had to transport cocoa for export to Lagos Ports.
The General Manager Eastern Ports, Mr. Joshua Asanga, said there is need for more utilisation of the Calabar port as a business hub for states on the North Eastern flank of Nigeria as well as countries bordering Nigeria in the North.
The issue of dredging has been a major problem of Calabar port, but Asanga expressed the desire that Calabar port should achieve its maximum potentials including the commencement of the dredging of the Calabar Channel for utilisation by larger sea-going vessels within his tenure.
As a result, of the low draught of the Calabar channel, patronage to the port has been low and several efforts to get dredging right has failed. Asanga declined to comment on current dredging effort as the matter is in court.
The General Manager of Ecomarine, Mr. Kingsley Iheanacho decried the lack of dredging of Calabar port; saying if such dredging is done, it will, to a large extent, boost business activities as bigger vessels will patronise the port.
Fire disaster, bush burning
Cocoa farms in Biakwan, Bashua, Biajua, Danare, Iso Bendege and Boje were subjected to the painful experience of having their farms burnt by irate youths, who went on rampage burning down cocoa estates in Boki indiscriminately causing untold hardship.
One of the victims of the farm fire disaster in Ekpokpa in Ikom, Irene Eyam Ogar lamented that the burnt cocoa were not likely to survive, and there would be need for replanting.
Ogar said it would run into hundreds of thousands of naira to procure seedlings, fertilizer and clearing.
She added that lack of funds was a major hindrance and “the economic loss from the devastation was un-quantifiable, as it has upturned the economic fortunes, not only of my family, but the community as a whole.”
Another victim, Mrs. Mercy Ndifon lamented that apart from cocoa, other economic trees such as plantain, banana, pears, bush mango and vegetables, within the plantations were also destroyed and “those were my sustainable economic crops, which we have relied upon as families for food and money.”
Mrs. Comfort Egwut, who lost much of her farms worth millions of naira, appealed to the state and federal government to provide them with cocoa seedlings, cash and other farm inputs to enable them replant their estates.
The Director General, Cross River State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA) Mr. John Inaku has regretted that in spite of campaigns against indiscriminate bush burning by the agency, unscrupulous persons still indulge in such unhealthy acts and urged the security operatives and traditional rulers to seek plausible ways of curtaining indiscriminate bush burning and apprehend culprits for prosecution.
Worried by these factors militating against cocoa production in the state, Cross River State government recently said it was set to churn out 500 metric tons of cocoa per annum as part of effort to shore up its low revenue base as a Technical Management team of Cocoa Estates was put in place.
The Chairman of the team, Mr. Oscar Ofuka, pointed that with the new production capacity, the state is poised to become the leading cocoa producing state in the country.
He said, “We would not relent to ensure that Cross River beats Ondo State records in the shortest possible time, and, in fact, becomes the world’s number one producer of cocoa as Cross River State also has the potential of becoming even the world’s biggest producer of cocoa if only she maximizes her fertile land, adopts the right approach in cultivation and processing.”
Ofuka stated that with the dwindling oil revenue in Nigeria, the state now has no choice, but to invest heavily in cocoa cultivation, with a view to making it the cornerstone of its economy and reduce dependence on federation account.
With a promise to revive moribund cocoa estates in the State, Ofuka said “some of us from the cocoa communities in this state are aware of the outcry by cocoa farmers for the rehabilitation of their moribund estates, for which quality time and resources have been spent.”
Recently, stakeholders and cocoa farmers in Nigeria converged in Calabar on issues affecting cocoa, saying the poor pricing of Nigerian cocoa in the international market is affecting local farmers and the middlemen.
The International conference on cocoa, convened at the instance of Cocoa Association of Nigeria (CAN) in collaboration with World Cocoa Producers Organisation maintained that the quality of cocoa in Nigeria was about the best, but pricing at the international market has been a big setback.
Delivering a paper at the conference which was convened to discuss Price Risk Management Project, which is critically impacting against small holder cocoa farmers in Nigeria and other third world countries, the Executive Director of Cocoa Research Institute of Nigeria, Professor Malachy Akoroda said that cocoa has great hope for the country given the high demand for it around the world.
He said that politics in the world cocoa market, lack of fertilizer and poor transportation are some of the factors militating against good pricing in Nigeria.
Akeroda said “these days it is possible to plant, nurture and have the high yield species produce in six months, and that even within 18 months there could be unimaginable reaps.
“Anyone can plant this species and make real good profit, so that in five years it is possible for the farmer to make as much as N15 million in profit.”
He noted “cocoa is number one non-oil export earner for Nigeria even when it is not enjoying desired state support, push and encouragement for local farmers. The product has great hope. There are great demands for cocoa bye products in Western and Eastern countries, but capacity to supply is limited.”
CAN president, Riman Mr Sayina R. Riman said cocoa business can change the economic fortune of Nigeria, adding that it is more sustainable than oil because there is possibility that oil can dry but cocoa will not.
He was happy that many younger people are getting involved in the trade in Cross River State, thereby ensuring the future growth.
Also lamenting the issue of poor pricing occasioned by international cocoa politics, the Executive Director of International Cocoa Organisation, London, Dr. Jean-Marc Anga, said that “cocoa farmers, producer organisations and exporters are constantly exposed to potential financial losses as the cocoa prices move against them.”
He announced that the International Cocoa Organisation has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the African Export and Import bank (Afreximbank) worth over US$400m to support African cocoa farmers and member countries to produce value-added cocoa production, promote chocolate consumption, empower women and develop cocoa farming models.
It is left to see how East cocoa farmers will take advantage of the incentives.