‘Poverty level affects cocoa products consumption, industry’

Professor Malachy Akoroda, immediate past Executive Director, Cocoa Research Institute of Nigeria (CRIN), is of the Department of Agronomy, University of Ibadan. He talks about the challenges of the cocoa industry and the way forward. FEMI IBRORGBA

Nigeria set a goal to increase cocoa bean production from about 200 metric tonnes to about 500 metric tonnes by 2015. Why has this failed?
The industry in Nigeria is an old industry with a long history, but we are unable to achieve that based on two factors. The first is the total area with viable trees, and the second is proper processing and drying. These are the two factors controlling outputs.

How do you mean?
If we take the first one, the total area of viable trees producing fruits, it means there is issue of trees that are viable. Once that is settled, you take the pod and process. Now, how you process might lead to a lot of losses of the beans. It can lead to poor qualities that would still be thrown off and it can lead to good quality that would still command price. So, there are two major things, before harvest and after harvest. Once those two factors are properly managed, we would get a high output of beans.

Let us take the first one, which is, the area containing correct viable trees. Viable trees would be those ones of the best variety. Now, are the best varieties available? Yes, at the Cocoa Research Institute of Nigeria (CRIN). Are the people growing them? That would depend whether you would give the improved varieties to them by dissemination and extension. If it is available and they don’t know about it; if it is available and they don’t know how to access it or replace their old ones with the new ones; and if it is available and they don’t get it in their locations, the outcome will be negative.

You can hear about it on campaign and radio programmes, but how will it reach the local government where the cocoa farmer is? That is a job for the government (federal, state or local) and the association of the cocoa farmers. It is a team work. If the government joins with non-governmental organisations and the farmers’ association, they can now bring these varieties to the doorsteps of the farmers who grow them. Let us assume one million farmers take one million seedlings of the new varieties and they are all producing at least twice the old one, if not three times the old one. So you can see the jump of the total output.

Why is it failing despite all the campaign and dissemination of improved varieties in the last administration?
Campaign is not synonymous with release of funds for action. The release of funds for action is the key point. Two, proper direction and use of these funds for the purpose is another matter. So, if you divert money, the goal will not be achieved. If you bring 10 per cent of what we planned, only 10 per cent would be achieved. So, we can break it into many areas. Good publicity in the mass media does not equal to release of funds every appropriation year.

Moving forward, individuals on their own can go to cocoa research institutes, buy seedlings and pods of the new varieties, open a small nursery and get like 100, 200 or even 1000 trees and put them on the hectare. And in the next 18 months, they start seeing pods of good quality. Now they have to be taught how to also process in good manner, double drying not on the surface of any solid.

That brings us to the second aspect?
Most of the times, when farmers dry cocoa beans on the solid surface, only the top of the beans is drying, but the bottom is wet because it is on a solid. But if it is on a mesh that has holes, both sides can be drying as we do in some areas. You need a special platform that can allow drying at the top and at the bottom so that the double drying makes the bean quickly evenly dry with less moldiness and less losses.

In a year, you can harvest so much only to lose so much during processing. You can waste all the efforts of one year in one week by poor processing. So if you are to dry cocoa beans using the sun most of the time, you have to be very careful.

The cocoa association says out of over 20 cocoa companies, only four are surviving. How will you quantify the economic loss to Nigeria? 
As an agronomist, I will say that the supply of raw beans to those processing factories was at a high cost for two reasons: labour and chemical. The chemicals are coming in at an exchange rate of 360 to one dollar. None of those chemicals are produced in Nigeria. Now don’t forget that many Nigerians don’t consume cocoa.

Many Nigerians don’t eat cocoa products. If you produce a hundred tonnes and only 8% of that is consumed locally, that means your local farmers and factories are not producing for local consumption.

They must be producing for external consumption and the quality of what you produce versus the quality of what the European countries produce does not match the taste of the local population in Europe. That is one.

The second point is that the tax regime against processed products from Nigeria is very high. It is to make sure that you don’t bring processed products into Europe so that their own factories will keep running, but not you competing with their factories.

You said we don’t consume much of cocoa products in Nigeria but beverages and chocolates are consumed locally?
You know, the proportion of your salary you put on beverage is a very small per cent. If you then say you have not been paid for 14 months, the proportion of your salary put on beverages will be zero. So you can see that when the companies of those who sell those products continue to do advert, they are begging you to come and patronise them because somehow, they are not getting the full numbers of buyers as they should have.

So, you look at the income. When the income is an average of N20,000 or N30,000 in a state, how much of that would a person put to beverages? How much of that would he put on cocoa products? 
Only the rich like and do eat chocolate, but the question is, how many are they? One per cent of the people in Ibadan will eat chocolate at least twice a week.

But I think that this taste for cocoa is growing. As small children pass through this age and generation where cocoa products seem to be more fanciful, the consumption will rise overtime. However, don’t forget that poverty affects the consumption of cocoa, and because of poverty, which is increasing according to statistics, the consumption of chocolate and cocoa products would be affected.

Can you quantify the economic loss to the country as a result of about 16 cocoa companies which have gone under?
I will not be able to give you real numbers, but I will tell you that very many people, not less than 60% of the former numbers of employees, are out of work. Why I say 60% is because Multi Treks Integrated Foods Plc used to be the biggest processor, but all the buyers, sellers, transporters, and people in the branch offices selling those products, sachet makers, paper makers, cup makers, plastic makers, and straw makers that were associated with the company are folded up.

Do you subscribe to bringing back cocoa or commodity boards as it was done in the old days to coordinate cash crops like cocoa, cashew and others?
What made the first one fail? Integrity was not there. Whether you bring it or you don’t bring it, would you bring back integrity? Is integrity valued? Whether you put a board or you don’t is not the point. Ghana is operating a board till tomorrow and it is working for them because of differences in integrity. Many countries don’t want to deal with Nigeria. Why? It is lack of integrity; there low level of integrity, poor percentage of integrity, and low degree of integrity.

Source: The Guardian

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