Ondo state is reputed for cocoa farming but failure of successive governments to provide adequate incentives to farmers is raising concerns, Tope Fayehun reports
The dominance of Ondo state in the area Cocoa production appears to be waning fast as utter neglect of farmers has led to what many viewed as the beginning of the end to cocoa boom in the state.
It is observed that because government’s interest in cocoa production has terribly waned, Cocoa farming is largely left to small-scale farmers, especially in the rural areas.
As should be expected, this has led to drastic drop in the quantity produced from the state and consequently, puts a big question on the state’s dominance as far as cocoa production is concerned.
Our correspondent reports that successive administrations in the state had failed in their responsibility to provide more conducive environment for agriculture to thrive in the state.
Despite having what could mildly be described as comparative advantage in the area of cocoa production, farmers in the state accused the state government of failing to implement practicable policies and programmes that will boost the production of cocoa.
One of the cocoa farmers in Akure, the state capital, Mr. Olorunfemi Ashagi asserted that one major problem facing the growth of Cocoa in the state is finance.
Ashagi said farmers in the state especially the ones in the rural areas have not been fortunate to enjoy financial aid or loans, and would do well with government assistance.
“Cocoa farmers, especially the ones in the rural areas have been seriously marginalised and neglected. Majority of the farmers and the lands being used for cultivation are also old. Cocoa money is a seasonal thing”
“Sometimes, we, the big players, are forced to lend money to the small farmers when things become so hard for them, in order to sustain productivity,” he said.
Another Cocoa farmer, Chief Olabode Fadero said some of the people in Cocoa business now are peasant farmers who delve into farming mainly to sustain their families.
Fadero who said, majority of the people in the business now are those whose age is far spent, expressed fear that cocoa farming in the state may soon go into extinction ,as many of the young men engaged in it are increasingly taking to the commercial motorcycle venture or running for menial jobs in the cities.
“The young people still staying on the farms were found to be predominantly teenagers who are compelled by their parents control to do so”.
Lamentably, most farmers who spoke to LEADERSHIP Sunday expressed concerned over failure of government to integrate cocoa farmers in most of its farmers support packages.
Omolade Agbelusi, an indigenous cocoa farmer in Itaogbolu, Akure north local government area of the state said cocoa farmers the state hardly benefit from the so-called government intervention funds or loans.
Agbelusi revealed that even some of the seeds, especially the high yielding seeds, meant for farmers courtesy of the government, are often hijacked by ghost farmers while genuine farmers are left out.
According to him, deprived of government support, most of the farmers are also still applying old methods and tools due to illiteracy.
But the the state government under the leadership of Dr. Olusegun Mimiko insisted that it has been making frantic moves to resuscitate the farm settlements inherited from the Western Region across the state as part of an overall plan to boost farming generally and cocoa farming in specific.
The government said, it has begin the rehabilitation of the Oda settlement and Cocoa Catalytic Industry, Idanre as production and processing hubs of the cocoa beans produced in all the farm settlements across the state and listed part of the measures it was taking to reposition cocoal farming in the state to include the instrumentality of the Cocoa Revolution Project (CRP).
Chairman of the CRP, Jibayo Oyebade, said one of the major steps taken is to ensure the beans produced in the state attained a premium rate which would increase the value in the international market.
Oyabade admitted that cocoa farmers face challenges that make it difficult for them to realise the true potential of cocoa farming but noted that the fragile nature of cocoa tree makes it vulnerable to pests and diseases.
He further disclosed that farmers lose between 30 per cent to, in a worst case scenario, 100 per cent of their cocoa farm to pests and diseases each year.
He said the limited number of improved seeds or planting material also means that farmers are harvesting from old trees that produce low yields.
According to him, the limited knowledge of new, more efficient farming techniques has reduced crop yields and incomes, just as lack of organisation among farmers’ groups has limited their ability to purchase supplies at a lower cost.
He noted that due to the abandonment of cocoa plantation as the mainstay of
the economy, presently, cocoa farmers in the state are producing poor quality of cocoa beans which suffer 100 percent reduction in the open market.
“To stem the ugly tide in cocoa and make Nigeria regain its position in the global market, CRP is embarking on acceptable, practical and sustainable approach to the processing of cocoa beans to the highest international quality leve.”
“So here in the revolution, we are armed to attest that our cocoa product in Ondo state is the best quality cocoa for the world market,” he emphasized, saying CRP is getting ready for 16 tons of high quality premium saying the state is going to be the first state in Nigeria to produce beans directly from single estate chocolate.”
Moreover, Oyebade noted the revolution will lead to the production of organic fertilizer in the farm, affirming that the fertilizer has been tested scientifically and it was found out that the poor land can be resuscitated by the use of organic manure simply produce through combination of poultry faeces and cocoa husks.
“We can now resuscitate our land or sustain our land fertility with the organic fertilizers we can produce and can even sell to other states.
Inorganic fertilizer reduces the power of the soil while organic fertilizer will stay up to three years where you put it .because it can only be dissolve by rain water” he said.
In a bid to make sure the cocoa beans from the state is acceptable in the international market, Oyebade said farmers in the state are being trained in the cocoa processing which includes harvesting, fermenting, drying with heated dryer.
The CRP chairman said ten processing centres have been established in the Ondo central senatorial district of the state where the cocoa beans come in large quantity and volumes from their various farms and plantations.
He listed some of the requirements and conditions for producing quality cocoa beans as spelt out in the State Produce Law of 2006, which specifies that cocoa farmers must ferment their beans and that they must not move ungraded cocoa out of the state.
“Farmers must obey some certain rules. Don’t allow cocoa to touch the surface of the earth or concrete when you are fermenting, you have started towards the first class procedure. The first critical hazard control is to make sure that the cocoa is not fermented on the floor of the earth or concrete.
“This is not to allow the heat being generated by cocoa beans to be lost to mother earth because scientifically heat is transferred to the sand and will make the cocoa to lose its aroma. This must be adhered to strictly to get the best of cocoa output.
“They can use elephant grass by putting it on the floor and should be about six inches from the surface of the floor and spread your cocoa; this system produces the best of aroma,” he said.