By Chris Chimezie & Kehinde Oluwatayo
Ondo State Governor, Arakunrin Oluwarotimi Akeredolu (SAN), has said the Cocoa Rebirth Initiative of his administration is addressing the production and distribution of improved cocoa varieties with early maturity of between 18 and 24 months aimed at restoring the dwindling fortunes of the Nigerian cocoa economy.
Akeredolu made this known at the distribution of hybrid cocoa and cashew seedlings to the State farmers, held at the Federal College of Agriculture (FECA) in Akure.
The governor informed that the improved varieties which are high yielding and tolerant to harsh weather conditions were produced from the five seed gardens in the State.
He said the cocoa seedlings distribution exercise was a prelude to the big event which would attract all major actors in the cocoa value chain to a roundtable with a view to positively proffering workable solutions to the retrogressing fortunes of cocoa.
“I wish to also emphasise that the good quality of our cocoa seedlings brought about the partnership of the State with the Federal Government for the distribution of hybrid cocoa pods to all the Cocoa Producing States in the country.
“Ondo State as an agrarian state produces virtually all food and tree crops available in Nigeria. As a matter of fact, we do not just produce, we occupy the number one position in the production of cassava, plantain, and most importantly, cocoa.
“As you are aware, cocoa is Nigeria’s number one cash crop and the second largest foreign exchange earner after petroleum. Although, the country recently slipped from a global fourth position to seventh position, with an annual production of 190,000mt.
“Ondo State, at the same time, produces 80,000 metric tonnes (42 percent) to maintain its leadership position amongst the nation’s Cocoa Producing States”, he stated.
He added that five of the ten functional cocoa factories and all the development agencies working on Cocoa across the country are based in Ondo State, saying the State is home to the first 100 percent cocoa powder beverage, the Oluji Pure Cocoa Powder.
The Governor said his administration had embarked on the rehabilitation of old and moribund cocoa farms while also venturing into new plantation development, and a good example was the resolve to establish the 2000-hectare model cocoa farm at Ijugbere Camp, Ilale via Owo.
“In addition to the distribution of hybrid cocoa seedlings which is taking place, 25,000 stands of Brazilian cashew seedlings are also going to be distributed to our cashew farmers to enhance the quality and total tonnage production of cashew in Ondo State.
“We encourage our farmers to engage in the cultivation of cashew farms because of its high yielding productivity value.
“Ondo State is not only mindful of increased output in quantity but also in quality. We have produced premium cocoa beans at the Oda Cocoa Farm which have been used in producing the award-winning 70 percent Oda Single Estate Chocolate Bars.
“Hence, our venture into chocolate production at the Sunshine Chocolate Factory, Alade-Idanre, which this administration is currently rejigging in capacity and operational mode”, he stated.
Similarly, the Governor said his administration is set to reposition the Akure Commodity Exchange Ltd and get it registered with the Nigeria Stock Exchange to begin online marketing of cocoa beans without further delay.
“We are embarking on massive training of our cocoa farmers in modern techniques and principles of cocoa production coupled with the use of modern fermentation and sun drying equipment.
“We are promoting local consumption of cocoa and chocolate drinks through sensitisation of our citizenry on the health and wealth benefits of cocoa,” he said.
Arakunrin Akeredolu further expressed his view that cocoa and chocolate would be incorporated into the national School Feeding Programme, while the distribution of 200,000 hybrid cocoa and cashew seedlings was deliberately targeted at the rehabilitation and replanting of the various plantations in the State.
“The development of the Cocoa Value Chain is key to the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari and hence all hands must be on deck towards the realisation of the goals.
“There is no gainsaying the fact that cocoa can generate millions of employment and as well generate millions of dollars in foreign exchange, especially now that crude oil is facing a bleak future.
“It is also worthy to mention that poor access roads, lack of drinkable water, poor accommodation, poor electricity, lack of telephone and internet services, among others, are attributable to why many of our youths are not showing interest in farming.
“Our government intends to resolve these problems at our new 2000Ha Model Cocoa Farm in Ijugbere which would endear our youths to the farmstead and thus curb the rural-urban drift.
“The two farms will need special intervention of over a billion naira for its establishment, rehabilitation and provision of infrastructure to meet the modern global standard. We are trying our best within the limited resources, but your kind assistance at repositioning the farm will go a long way”, he said.
Earlier, Commissioner for Agriculture, Otunba Gboyega Adefarati while lauding the gesture, said it would help the state to sustain its enviable position as the leader in terms of cocoa production in Nigeria.
Senior Special Assistant (SSA) to the Governor on Agriculture and Agribusiness, Pastor Akin Olotu, while describing the move as one of the State Government’s strategies to give cocoa a new lease of life, reiterated the urgent need for cocoa revival, saying oil wealth is fading while the real wealth lies in Agriculture.
Olotu who hinted that no amount of maize or volume of livestock Nigeria can produce that would make it compete favorably with Europe and America in the labour market, said Nigeria’s area of strength is largely in tree crops which Cocoa is number one, hence the need to fully develop it across the value chain.
President, Federation of Agric Commodity Association of Nigeria (FACAN) and Chairman, Board of Council, Cocoa Association of Nigeria, Dr Victor Iyamah decried the retrogression in Cocoa production which he said would have served as a means of job opportunities for the teeming unemployed youths in the agriculture sector.
He charged governments at all levels to endeavour to strive towards achieving, if not 1 million tonnes, then close to that with a view to reclaiming its position as one of the leading cocoa producers in Africa.
While commending Governor Akeredolu for distributing the seedlings free of charge, he attributed the reigning peace in Cocoa producing areas like Ondo and other states to its efforts at ensuring that youths are gainfully employed along the value chain.
Others who spoke at the event include Provost, Federal College of Agriculture (FECA), Dr Adeola Odedina and President, Sunshine Cocoa Association, Engr. Julius Ogundare who described the Governor’s initiative as unprecedented.
At the ceremony were: Deputy Governor, Hon Agboola Ajayi, Speaker, Ondo State House of Assembly (ODHA), Rt Hon David Oleyeloogun, members of the State Executive Council and the Deji of Akure, Oba Aladetoyinbo Ogunlade Aladelusi among others.