Reviving the cocoa industry of western Nigeria
The 2015/2016 oil price plunge was the driving factor that led to Nigeria falling into a recession, due to the country’s heavy reliance on oil proceeds. The need for revenue diversification became more apparent as the recession deepened. With the current rebound in global oil prices, the increase in the pace of oil production, and gross domestic product (GDP) growth creeping back into positive territory, the push for diversification may once again take a back seat. Cocoa was a major agricultural export crop 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.
While palm produce sustained the economy of the then Eastern Region, cocoa was the mainstay of Western Region’s economy, even as the Northern Region anchored its own on groundnuts, cotton, hides and skin, and Mid-Western Region was a major player in rubber and timber. Fishing, done along the coastal stretch and the major rivers, was enough to sustain local consumption. The level of development among the different regions, driven by intense competition, far outstripped what obtains today. The Cocoa House, a showpiece of architectural wonder at the time of its completion in Ibadan, the Western Regional capital, in 1965, symbolised the prosperity that came with cocoa business. It was then reputed to be the tallest building, not just in Nigeria, but in tropical Africa.
Over the years, the government’s lack of interest in agriculture and the volatility of the oil market had led many experts to warn of the need to diversify the economy. But this is a warning that was never heeded. The wise thing that should have been done over the years was to insulate the agro-economy from the toxic oil money. Yet, despite the obvious neglect, cocoa has over the years, shown its potential to keep the economy going in the absence of oil. For instance, the crop continued for many years to be the second highest foreign exchange earner, next only to oil.
With global sales of chocolate confectioneries put at over $100 billion, according to the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture, Nigeria has every reason to invest heavily in cocoa farming and export. This is even more so that, for the first time, cocoa beans demand now outstrips supply. Apart from chocolate, cocoa is also useful in the production of cocoa powder, liquor, soft and alcoholic drinks, animal feeds, cocoa butter, jams, marmalades and other cosmetics.
Successive South-West governors have failed their people over the years by allowing the region’s cash cow to wither away. Now is the time for innovative thinking. There is no better time for the country to return to the golden years of cocoa farming and the growing of other cash crops than now, especially with the availability of improved breeds that take much shorter times to mature, and with increased yields. If Indonesia that reportedly planted no cocoa before 1980 is now ahead of Nigeria in the production of the crop, then the revival of its cultivation is possible within a short period of time. According to the immediate past Minister of Agriculture and current President of African Development Bank, Akinwunmi Adesina, more than 140 million seedlings of high-yielding varieties were distributed to farmers in 2014. Instead of four to five years, the new varieties can mature in 18 to 24 months. More of such varieties should be brought out and many young school-leavers, especially in the South-West which has comparative advantage in cocoa cultivation, should be encouraged to go into cocoa farming.
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