The United States Agency for International Development USAID|NIGERIA has commenced training of major service providers in key cocoa producing states on vegetative propagation of cocoa to address the dearth of planting materials for cocoa and also enable increased yield of the cash crop.
The week-long training which held at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) Ibadan entailed series of practical sessions and field trips, taught the participants how to carry out rehabilitation of old cocoa trees via vegetative grafting with young or new budwoods from high-yielding cocoa trees. This measure reinvigorates the old tree and increases its productivity yield for another number of decades.
The Nigerian Cocoa industry is currently plagued by low productivity at less than .350ton/hectare and dire scarcity of cocoa seedlings (planting materials) to cultivate much needed new cocoa plantations. Investments in new plantation are required to replace and expand existing cocoa estates, most which were cultivated in the pre-independence era, hence the timely and strategic invention of USAID|NIGERIA in the production end of the cocoa value chain through the ‘Training of Trainers on Cocoa rehabilitation and Planting Material.’
Lead Facilitator at the training, Dr Daniel Adewale from the Department of Crop Science and Horticulture of Federal University of Oye – Ekiti noted that “Nigeria is no longer getting full economic benefits from growing cocoa because most cocoa fields are old and small as well as the poor genetic qualities of the planting materials used.”
Therefore the cultivation of cocoa is no longer a profitable crop for many farmers and as a result of this, the nation’s quantity and quality of cocoa is declining. The need to urgently address this decline is why USAID|NIGERIA is intervening through its Nigeria Expanded Trade and Transport (NEXTT) project to build the capacity of service providers/extension workers to help farmers rehabilitate old cocoa trees and cultivate new clonal seedling gardens -using budwood- for production of more high-yielding cocoa seedlings.
Speaking on the need to move Nigeria cocoa’s industry from the 19th century to the 21st century, Mr Remi Osijo from the USAID|NIGERIA NEXTT project identified the massive investment opportunities and its inherent potential for the Nigerian economy if young entrepreneurial cocoa farmers are “supported with renovation and expansion of atomized farms (less than one hectare) to 3-5 hectares, for higher yields of over one ton/hectare.”
According to him, “there is an urgent need to encourage investments in commercial cultivation of nuclear cocoa estates not just for increased productivity but because the commercial scale of the operations and services that will be rendered. This will ultimately address quality issues of Nigeria’s cocoa beans as the fermentation, drying, ware housing and branding will be done appropriately and these services will certainly be extended to the atomized/local farmers around the estate.”
“Just imagine the scale and number of jobs that will be created from this venture with Nigeria earning more revenue as premium price will certainly be paid for such standardized cocoa beans all over the world” opined Mr Osijo.
Nigeria currently produces less than 500kg of dry bean per hectare. “This very low level of cocoa production has made it necessary to change protocol of production,” argues Dr Adewale, who is a former scientist with the Cocoa Research Institute of Nigeria (CRIN).
“Vegetative propagation is the best way to ensure increased production of high quality cocoa pods or beans instead of seedling cultivation because it enables multiplicity and commercialization of high-yielding strains.”
The Crop Scientist further explained that vegetative propagation makes it possible to multiply desired cocoa varieties thereby ensuring “quick replication of highly productive planting materials, production of uniform trees with shortened gestation period and cocoa plants are protected against diseases.”
Cocoa industry crisis
The need for Nigeria to quickly bridge the gap in its cocoa production was also emphasized by Dr Ranjana Bhattacharjee; a Senior Researcher at IITA.
According to her “globally, the chocolate and cocoa industry are in crisis due to low productivity which is failing to meet a growing demand that is increasing by 2% annually,” hence the need for Nigeria to urgently seize this opportunity growing global demand by increasing its falling cocoa production.
The country has fallen from the world leading producer of cocoa in the 60’s to fourth position after Cote D’Ivoire, Ghana and Indonesia respectively. Indonesia grew almost no cocoa before the early 1980s, when production took off and it is the world’s third leading producer of cocoa beans, growing 740,500 tons in 2012, according to the FAO.
Cocoa was a major foreign exchange earner for Nigeria decades before the advent of crude oil. With falling crude oil prices and government revenue, major stakeholders have continuously called for the diversification of the Nigerian economy through agriculture and the development of cocoa value chain provides such an opportunity.
However, the failure to sustain and improve Nigeria’s production of cocoa over the years has led to its sharp decline and productivity at less than 0.350ton/hectare when other leading countries are producing about 2 -5 tons per hectare of improved variety. This challenge is further accentuated by the lack of planting materials for cocoa, which is greatly affecting cultivation of new cocoa plantation in Nigeria.
“The use of high quality planting materials in the right environment and management plus market demands must all be linked and developed to increase Nigeria’s cocoa yield” Dr Ranjana said, adding that “there is a need to develop more hybrid varieties.”
“A pipeline of varieties of high-yielding cocoa must be created and continuous research is essential for this” she said.
The age-old use of cocoa beans as seeds for the cultivation new cocoa seedling was strongly discouraged by the team of scientists and experts at the training. Noting that “the size and shape of cocoa pods –as used by farmers to identify viable cocoa seed- is not the best way to find superior cocoa variety, Dr Adewale explained that a myriad of issues such as the environment and cross pollination affects the final output of the cash crop which can be ascertained if clonal materials from the best trees were used instead of the seeds.
The Training of Trainers on Cocoa rehabilitation and Planting Material had major stakeholders from government officials to farmers, extension workers, policy makers, input suppliers, service providers and financial institutions from all cocoa producing states in Nigeria. The training which held at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture also featured a field trip to a cocoa plantation in Mamu village, Ijebu-Ode where old cocoa trees were rehabilitated by the trainers to the delight of the local farmers.
The farmers were also trained on how to prune cocoa trees to ensure higher productivity instead of vegetative growths that limits the production of cocoa pods. The USAID|NIGERIA NEXTT project set an ambition for participants at the training to deploy the skills learnt to other farmers and extension workers in a bid to ensure the rehabilitation of 20,000 hectares of old cocoa trees, annually.
Irrigating cocoa fields
Back at the training center, the need for cocoa farmers to invest in cost-effective irrigation method as an irrigation expert; Mr Akpan Imeh warned that “the time has passed for farmers to be solely relying on climate-fed agriculture as the climate changes.”
According to him, “Cote D’Ivoire has expanded its cocoa productivity above Nigeria and every other country because it has evolved the cultivation of cocoa beyond the traditional ways which relies on climate.”
The participants learned how to determine if their soil requires irrigation, using their palms to firm up soils collected at about 2 feet deep from the farms. “If the soil forms a bond, then the soil will be able to withstand a lot of water stress but if there’s no bonding, irrigation is badly needed.” Mr Akpan revealed series of ways by which such farms can be irrigated at little or no cost if the farmers cannot afford the drip irrigation.
The constant supply of water to the farm throughout the year irrespective of climate guarantees all year high yield of cocoa. The training also helps the participant build capacity in series of crucial skills required to fill notable service gaps in the cocoa industry. This includes spraying services, pruning, farm input supplies, tractor hiring and funding opportunities for the financial service providers or investors.