Experts task cocoa farmers on using modern tools to increase yield
By Joe Akwarandu, Umuahia
Cocoa farmers in Nigeria have been enjoined to employ modern farming techniques, increase utilisation of recommended chemicals and fertilizers to increase their crop yield and outputs.
The Abia state director, Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (FMARD), Victor Ihediwa, gave the charge while delivering lecture during the Umuahia 2020 Cocoa Farmers Roundtable Conference held at the Michael Okpara Auditorium.
Ihediwa disclosed that Abia state government has provided a platform through various intervention efforts to boost cocoa farming in Nigeria. He told the participants that “government has funded the Cocoa Research Institute of Nigeria (NRIN) to meet demand for improved seedlings. Government is providing subsidies on inputs and seedlings as much as her economy permits.”
According to him, the ministry, in collaboration with CBN, set up some development finance to target agriculture, such as the Anchor Borrowers Scheme, Commercial Agriculture Credit Scheme, among others, designed to boost production of all value chain crops, including cocoa; engagement of 774,000 young farmers through NALDA.
“Government is also investing in the production of seedlings of disease-resistant and improved hybrids through CRIN. The government set up the Joint Technical Task Team (JTTT) to ensure farmers hard unhindered movement during the COVID-19 lockdown. The federal government is working with the State Ministry of Agriculture to revamp the services of the agriculture extension workers. However, there is a current online extension service.”
The director further disclosed that Ikpeazu administration was also constructing asphaltic farm roads in Abia state and other states, along with other water and street light infrastructures for ease of farming business, to reduce rural-urban drift, and encourage youths to venture into agriculture.
Ihediwa remarked that cocoa production is done in 14 states of Nigeria, namely: Ondo, Cross River, Osun, Ekiti, Oyo, Edo, Ogun, Taraba, Delta, Abia, Akwa-Ibom, Adamawa, Kwara, and Kogi, adding that the crop remained important to the national economic growth and development.
Ihediwa said, “The National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) rated cocoa as the Nigeria’s second highest foreign exchange earner after crude oil, in its assessment of top products by import and exports in the first quarter of 2020. Cocoa products, which include the cocoa beans, butter, cake, liquor and powder, has a significant effect on the National Gross Domestic Product, GDP until lately when it showed sharp declining share of its contributions to the country’s economy, resulting from production decline. This is not unconnected with many factors militating against the production, processing and marketing of cocoa produce”.
He outlined ageing of cocoa fields play a role in decreasing productivity, lack of knowledge of pattern for optimum production, diseases and pest attack, non- availability and low utilization of fertilizer despite declining soil fertility, shortage and high cost of labour, little agricultural mechanisation and lack of processing facilities, very few young people participating in cocoa farming and inadequate credit facility as factors affecting production efficiency of cocoa farming in Nigeria.
The Abia FMARD boss encouraged cocoa farmers association of Nigeria to enlighten her members on the proper use of chemicals and quality parameters for fermentation and drying of the cocoa beans, to meet internationally accepted quality standard.
He added: “Cocoa farmers should rehabilitate abandoned farms, replace 25years and above aged cocoa trees and expand farm size to minimum of 4 hectares with new disease-resistant, high yielding and early maturing varieties having gestation period of three years, to make the farming more business and profit oriented.