By Kehinde Adejumo
Ondo State Governor, Arakunrin Oluwarotimi Akeredolu (SAN), has said the Cocoa Rebirth Initiative is addressing the production and distribution of improved cocoa varieties with early maturity of between18 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 Ondo State farmers, held at the Federal College of Agriculture (FECA) in Akure.
Elated Akeredolu informed that the improved varieties which are high in yield production and tolerant to harsh weather conditions were produced from the five seed gardens in the State.
He said the cocoa seedlings distribution exercise is 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 profer 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, but 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 4th position to 7th position, with an annual production of 190,000mt.
“Ondo State, at the same time, produces 80,000 metric tonnes (42%) 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% cocoa powder beverage, the Oluji Pure Cocoa Powder.
The Governor further 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 2000ha 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% 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 sensitization 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 for 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 realization 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 Agric, Otunba Gboyega Adefarati while lauding the gesture, said it would help the State to sustain its enviable position as leader in terms of Cocoa production in Nigeria.
“It is against this background, that the State Government embarked on the raising of hybrid Cocoa seedlings out of which 200,000 seedlings and 10,000 Cashew seedlings would be distributed free of charge to our farmers today.
“This would further assist farmers in rehabilitation and replanting of their various plantations in the State which would ultimately translate to additional 200 Metric Tons of Cocoa beans in the state.
“It is hoped that these efforts will sustain the leadership position of the State among the nation’s Cocoa producing States in Nigeria and it is our desire, that other tree crops like Oil Palm, Rubber, Kolanut and Coconut witness similar development”, he said.
Also, Senior Special Assistant (SSA) to the Governor on Agric 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 of 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.
“Not just production, but processing too. If you look at the global Cocoa economy, we discovered that those that are processing are making more money are creating more jobs than those that are planting.
“But we have the advantage, we can plant, process and can also export and that is the target of the Akeredolu-led administration.
“We want Ondo State to be the face of Cocoa, not only in Nigeria, but in Africa. Next year, it would be a minimum of one million seedlings that would be planted as we are targeting 5,000 modern Cocoa farmers that would be producing Cocoa of premium quantities”, he assured.
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 agric sector.
“Before, we were used to producing 401,000 tonnes, Ghana produces 410,000 tonnes, while Cotedivoire churns out 381,000 tons of Cocoa.
“Currently, Cotedivoire with about 26 million people produces 2.1 million tonnes, Ghana with 24 million population produces 1 million tonnes, while Nigeria that has about 180 million people are producing 240,000 tonnes of Cocoa”, he lamented.
He charged governments at all levels to endeavour to strive towards achieving, if not 1 million tons, but at least, 800 tons 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, FECA, Dr Adeola Odedina and President, Sunshine Cocoa Association, Engr Julius Ogundare who described the Governor’s initiative as unprecedented.
They charged the farmers to take advantage of the highly maturing and disease-resistant Cocoa and Cashew seedlings to create wealth and assist in increasing the fortune of the dwindling Cocoa production in the state.
Engr Ogundare however, appealed to Arakunrin Akeredolu to continually supply inputs to only practicing farmers and also create jobs for youths along the various agricultural value chains from nursery activities to planting, production and processing.
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, Deji of Akure, Oba Aladetoyinbo Ogunlade Aladelusi among others.
In a related development, the people of Okitipupa local government area of the State, have commended the State Governor, Akeredolu SAN for his administration’s efforts at to ensuring that the Okitipupa Oil Palm plantation is revitalized before the end of the year .
One of the residents of the area , Mr Ikuewumi who spoke with Special Focus, said the action of the Governor is a right step in the right direction, saying that this has been the yearning and aspiration of the people of the area ever since the company become grounded several years ago.
Mr Ikuewumi who is a retired teacher said previous administrations in the state have been playing politics with the company, saying during election time, they will use it to campaign that if they were voted for , the company would be revived , but on getting to the post, they forgot their campaign promises.
“Arakunrin Akeredolu, is the first Governor that has fulfilled his campaign promises in taking meaningful steps to revive the Oil Palm company.
Speaking on what the government stands to gain on the plantation, he said the then Eastern Region palm oil was the mainstay of the country’s economy before the advent of oil boom in the 1970s. “If Malaysia can come to Ondo State to buy palm seedling’s and today the country is one of the highest producers of oil palm in the world and the mainstay of her economy
” we have shifted our attention from what can improve our economy which could give employment opportunities to our unemployed youths who are roaming the streets “.
He therefore commended the Arakunrin Akeredolu SAN led administration for taking such bold step in its bid to fulfill his administration’s promise providing jobs through agriculture.
He said he was glad when the state Governor told the investor that “The state government is looking forward to see the thriving Oil Palm plantation before the end of this year, and that the state is working tirelessly at exploring her abundant natural resources for the benefit of the masses .”
Ikuewumi pleaded with the people of the area who are involved in one litigation or the other to settle it amicably so that the work of reviving the company will commence in earnest .
He described the collaboration between Odua Investment Company and Ondo State Government towards reviving the Okitipupa Oil Palm Plantation as a timely intervention, adding that with the step taken by the government, in no distant time the Oil Palm Plantation would become a veritable source of income generation for the state and would no longer depend on Abuja before it pays workers salaries.
Another resident of the area who is also a farmer with several hectares of oil palm plantation, Mr Ikuejube Joseph applauded the state government for the initiative to revive the Oil Palm Plantation.
According to him, the oil palm value chain is a veritable venture which the state’s economy can lean on.
“The step taken by the government is capable of repositioning the state as a major producer of oil Palm in the country, before now, Nigeria was the largest producer of oil palm in the world but the country lost the position as a result of discovery of crude oil .
“Now that the price of crude oil is dwindling in the international market, it is high time the country returned to it first love for agriculture, oil Palm Plantation in particular ,” Joseph said.
He lamented the abandonment of the Okitipupa Oil Palm Plantation for this long, according to him, agricultural Experts have described the plantation as one of the most fruitful in the world . He added that the plantation is capable of providing millions of jobs for the unemployed youths, not only in the state but the whole country at large in different stages of production when fully operational.
He therefore pleaded with the state government not to play politics with the project and that the Akeredolu’s administration should give the project the deserved attention with a view to reviving it.
He also appealed to the government to wade into the lingering litigations on the plantation that may impede the process of moving ahead with its implementation.
Joseph said that he has been in the business for over 40years and he can boldly say that the government will not regret their action if the necessary attention is given to the project.
“The business has made me what l lam today, built houses in all the major towns in the state, married wives, trained all my 20 children to university level and some abroad, I don’t have any other business apart from this my plantation,” he enthused.
He however advised the government that for it to favourably compete with other nations in the world and meet its target in food security, the government should reduce it’s dependence on rain-fed agriculture, saying as the country’s population expands, deliberate efforts were needed to revamp irrigation for farming. He also called on the government to develop it’s river basin”. Nigeria must get it right, if it must meet the people’s demand for food production and food security.
He lamented that despite the huge amount invested on dams and irrigation it had not achieved any meaningful socio_economic impact saying that there must be deliberate efforts to achieve this objective.
He said the contributions of irrigated agriculture had been very little “With our growing population, we can not sustain ourselves in terms of food security until we revamp irrigated agricultural practice and make it work in order to support our population and even encourage exportation.
He commended the seriousness the Akeredolu-led administration has demonstrated in revamping agriculture in the State, saying that the first official assignment the Governor performed after his annual vacation was the resuscitation of Okitipupa Oil Palm Plantation, which is an evidence that the issue of agriculture is paramount in the Governor’s mind. He said that if this tempo can be sustained he is optimistic that in no distant time, Ondo State will regain its position in oil Palm production and other agricultural products by exporting farm produce to other parts of the world.