he appearance of sun rays in the partly cloudy sky on Monday morning in early July excited Dorathy Friday, a cocoa farmer in Ikom, Cross River State. She had feared that the relentless rainfall would spoil her freshly harvested cocoa beans.
With a long wooden spatula, the farmer spread the fermented cocoa beans on a large tarpaulin spread on the ground in her compound. Her aim was to ensure that the beans were evenly exposed to the rising sun.
On that day, the surrounding air was filled with the smell of cocoa.
“The heavy rainfall is affecting the cocoa,” Mrs Friday told the visiting PREMIUM TIMES reporter.
It was the first time in almost a month that the town was experiencing warm weather. But she knew that the beans only needed a few hours of sun and warm air before she bagged them for sale.
“If the rain beats the cocoa, it will not dry well and it will have mould,” Mrs Friday said.
The activity of sun-drying cocoa beans that Monday morning was a common sight across Okondi Ikom. Largely subsistence farmers, the people grow cocoa mostly, but also vegetables, maize and cassava in the surrounding farms.
Ikom is one of the local government areas famous for cocoa plantations. The town lies a few kilometres from the Cameroon border. The Central African country is another major cocoa producer, contributing about 70 per cent of the world’s cocoa beans alongside Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana and Nigeria. Proximity to Cameroon offers trade opportunities to Ikom and has inspired its young dwellers to embrace cocoa farming, instead of joining the rush to the cities to look for white-collar jobs.
However, production has been declining in this community as in other cocoa-producing areas across Nigeria. This has been blamed on climate change, increasing population with its attendant urbanisation, and the absence of regulatory control in the cocoa value chain in the country.
Data from Nigeria’s Meteorological Agency (NiMet) shows that the duration and intensity of rainfall have increased, causing flooding in many parts of Nigeria as witnessed last year between August and October. Findings from a tour of cocoa farming communities in the major cocoa-producing states of Nigeria by PREMIUM TIMES show that unpredictable weather conditions are contributing to the decline in the production of cocoa, like other major cash crops in the country.
Poor agronomic practices, market structure, lack of quality farm inputs and reliable farm data are some of the other factors. The situation is taking a huge toll on farmers’ productivity and livelihoods as most of them remain poor despite the huge wealth being made in the cocoa value chain globally. Cocoa bean is the major raw material for the $100 billion global chocolate and cocoa confectionery industry.
In Nigeria, farmers look at the past for the glory days of the cocoa industry. “We cannot compare our production in the last 10 years to when our parents were in charge due to the degrees of rainfall we are currently experiencing,” Agbo Bassey, a cocoa farmer in Ikom, told PREMIUM TIMES.
Changing weather pattern
r Bassey said they expected a bountiful harvest in the community last year but the rain came unexpectedly and destroyed much of the crops.
“We had a large level of black pod infection due to the rainfall,” the farmer said. But they fear for the same experience this year. “What we have been seeing in the past three weeks has been constant rainfall on a daily basis.”
Mgbe Aya, another cocoa farmer in Ikom, said he now produces less than when he began farming 20 years ago. However, his biggest concern has been the depletion of soil fertility in his farm.
“I inherited my farm from my father. The trees are now old and the soil is no longer fertile like before,” he said.
Nigeria’s shrinking cocoa production
n the 1950s and 60s, cocoa was a major agricultural export commodity in Nigeria, and a top foreign exchange earner for the country.
Before it was displaced by crude oil (discovered in commercial quantities in the 1970s), agriculture was the mainstay of Nigeria’s economy. The country was the second-largest producer of cocoa globally. From 1960 to 1969, the agriculture sector accounted for an average of 57 per cent of Nigeria’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and generated about 64.5 per cent of export earnings in the country.
During this period, the government of the Western region of Nigeria used proceeds from cocoa exports to build major edifices like the 26-storey Cocoa House, the first television station in Sub-Saharan Africa – the Western Nigeria Television (WNTV) – and the University of Ife, now Obafemi Awolowo University. However, from 1970 to the late 2000s, the sector’s contribution to GDP and export earnings steadily declined, as Nigeria’s focus shifted to fossil fuel exploration.
Nigeria’s rapidly increasing population and urbanisation also means that the cocoa-growing spaces continue to shrink across the major producing states.
Average cocoa production in the country declined from 420,000 tonnes in the 60s to 170,000 tonnes in 1999, the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations revealed. Production rose to 399,200 tonnes between 2000 and 2010 but declined to 302,066 tonnes in 2015 and to 298,029 tonnes in 2016. Nigeria dropped to fourth place in the global ranking of cocoa producers within this period.
In 2017 and 2018, Nigeria’s production rose to an average 0f 333,000 tonnes and 348,448 tonnes in 2019 but fell slightly again to 340,163 in 2020. Nigeria lags behind Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire, its West African neighbours that respectively produce 1.2 million and two million tonnes annually.
Twin problems – weather fluctuation and black pods
armers who spoke with this newspaper confirmed that their farming areas are shrinking fast due to urbanisation. They also cited extreme weather events, lack of access to soft loans, viable planting materials and other necessary inputs as their major drawbacks.
Mrs Friday and other farmers in Cross River, Ondo and Ekiti states said the general effects of climate change such as irregular rainfall patterns, delayed onset of rainfall, high temperature, drought and the obvious variations in the sunshine period are affecting the production of the cocoa. Due to the fluctuating weather patterns, the farmers said cocoa is being exposed to intense pest attacks, diseases – especially black pods, uneven ripening of pods, reduced weight and contamination of beans, which is reducing the quality of Nigerian cocoa and its value in the international market.
“We were shocked by the degree of rain that came last year,” Mr Bassey said. “We had serious issues maintaining our cocoa. We sprayed against black pod diseases but we still have issues with the pods.”
The farmer explained that cocoa pods usually turn black under excessive rainfall.
“We were told the fungi affecting the cocoa works with cold weather. So, we try to prevent excessive shade in our farms by pruning the branches for sunlight to penetrate,” Mr Bassey said.
Black pod is a disease caused in cocoa by a fungus called Phytophthora palmivora. The disease infects pods, flower cushions, young vegetative shoots, stems and roots of cocoa trees. According to researchers, the fungus thrives during the rainy season and is spread largely by rain splash. During the dry season, the causative fungus is unable to reproduce or infect the cocoa.
Black pod disease is responsible for over 20 per cent loss of cocoa crop annually, although some plantations lose up to 90 per cent of pods to the disease, researchers said.
Adeniyi Sanyaolu, a plant pathologist at the University of Uyo, said the causative agents of the diseases are soil-borne pathogens that exist in the soil as saprophytes (they live on dead or decaying organic matter) in the absence of rain. “But with a droplet of rain, they move very fast and cocoa trees are very low and close to the ground.”
Mr Sanyaolu said the development of resistant varieties is usually the best approach to controlling black pod infection. But he is unaware if such variety is available in Nigeria yet.
Olumuyiwa Jayeoba, a professor of Environmental Resource Modelling at Nasarawa State University, Keffi, said the correlation between weather and the outbreak of diseases in cocoa plants can be significant, as weather conditions can directly impact the health and susceptibility of cocoa trees to various diseases.
The don said: “Changes in long-term weather patterns due to climate change can have significant implications for cocoa disease dynamics. Rising temperatures, altered rainfall patterns, and increased extreme weather events can all impact the prevalence and distribution of diseases in cocoa-growing regions.”
Similar situation in Nigeria’s South-west region
n July, farmers from across the 14 major cocoa-producing states in Nigeria converged in Ekiti State, south-west Nigeria, to inaugurate the new executive committee of the Cocoa Farmers Association of Nigeria (CFAN). Interaction with the farmers at the event reveals that declining cocoa production is also a trend across the South-west region.
Anjorin Temitope, who has been a farmer for over two decades in the Ilawe axis of Ekiti State, said: “The weather changes have affected all our plantations and production has reduced.”
According to him, ageing plantations are also contributing to the decline in production of the crop, adding that most of the cocoa trees in Ekiti planted in the 1980s have aged and become less productive.
Mr Temitope also noted a change in the rainfall pattern. “The agriculture ministry through NiMeT used to predict the rainfall patterns but their prediction is of no effect to our production,” he said.
Okeowo Patrick, who has also been a cocoa farmer for over two decades in Owo, Ondo State, said the extreme weather events in the state have also affected his output. Ironically, he cites long dry seasons that delay the rains.
“During the dry season or harmattan, our cocoa dries up. We face a lot of drought due to the lack of rainfall,” the farmer said.
Women farmers lament
omen in Nigeria hardly own cocoa farms or take part in physically draining farming activities like spraying, clearing and pruning. However, they play a critical role in the processing and marketing of cocoa produce, which exposes them to peculiar challenges. Women are more vulnerable to the prevailing climate of insecurity in the country.
“I can’t go to the farm alone anymore. We move in groups of three, four and above because the herdsmen bring in their cattle and they used to destroy our farms,” said Florence, Adameji, a resident of Ikole in Ekiti State.
Some other women complain about the lack of good access roads, making the transportation of cocoa from their farms extremely difficult. This, the women farmers say, prevents them from harvesting their crops effectively during crop harvest.
“We carry our freshly harvested cocoa on our heads from the farm to the house for drying due to lack of good roads,” Mrs Adameji said.
Another woman farmer, Bolanle Akinleye, said excessive rainfall makes it difficult for her to go to farms as the roads become slippery.
“When it’s raining, people slip and fall down easily when carrying fresh cocoa on their heads from the farms to the house or to the major roads before they will eventually get home,” she said.
Sharing her experience of the weather problems, Mrs Adameji recalled how the cocoa seedlings she got from the Cocoa Research Institute of Nigeria (CRIN) some years back “dried up in our farms, due to a shortfall in rainfall.” The farmers called for both financial support and good farm tools in order to improve production
Nigeria’s Unstructured Cocoa Market
he liberalisation of the market for cocoa and other produce by the Ibrahim Babangida military government over three decades ago has had far-reaching consequences on the Nigerian agricultural sector. In 1986, the government abolished marketing boards that were the official off-takers of farm produce. The mandates of the boards ranged from advisory and promotional services to full control over output and sales. The arrangement protected farmers from direct shocks from price fluctuations and other market forces.
The policy change means that cocoa farmers in Nigeria, who mostly are ignorant of the prevailing market prices, now often sell at lower prices. Many thus remain in perpetual debt to middlemen buyers in the skewed field of “in-kind” exchange trade. Under this arrangement, merchants and aggregators of cocoa produce provide insecticides, fertilisers and other inputs to farmers who pay back with produce at harvest time at the prevailing price.
“In the past during the era of Baba Awolowo, we had cocoa boards, but now we don’t have them anymore. Marketers buy from us at ridiculous prices,” Paul Agunbiade, the spokesperson of the Cocoa Farmers Association (CFAN) in Ekiti State, told PREMIUM TIMES.
“When they buy (at a particular price) today, after two days, they will say the price has dropped. This is frustrating to farmers,” the sexagenarian says.
Mr Agunbiade said the new arrangement has also exposed farmers to substandard farm inputs such as seedlings and insecticide, unlike in the past when the marketing board controlled the quality and distributed the materials.
Also, he said farmers in the state did not benefit from the Anchor Borrowers Programme of the Central Bank of Nigeria initiated under the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari.
Speaking on other challenges, Mr Agunbiade said: “We used to have stable and predictable rainfall pattern about 20 to 30 years ago, but now, we can’t predict the rainfall pattern anymore and it is affecting our production.”
Last year, the Nigerian government inaugurated a committee to develop a new framework for the regulation and monitoring of the activities in the cocoa industry to make it more transparent. The 10-member National Cocoa Management Committee was asked to develop a strategic plan for reestablishing the Nigerian Cocoa Board as a regulatory body for the industry.
The committee is expected to also work toward Nigeria joining the Living Income Differential (LID) initiative launched in 2019 by Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire, the world’s two leading cocoa producers. The LID mandates a minimum price of $2,600 per tonne for cocoa and pays an additional $400 on every tonne purchased to provide a living wage and support cocoa farmers in the two countries.
Unlike Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire which have centralised regulatory systems, the cocoa trade is entirely in the hands of the private sector in Nigeria.
ocoa farmers’ population and land available for cultivation have reduced in the last decade in Nigeria, Adeola Adegoke, the National President of CFAN, said. He said production hovers between 200,000 and 340,000 tonnes, while production per hectare is about 350 to 400 kg per hectare. This matches the data published by the FAO.
Mr Adegoke said Ghana’s annual production is about 1.2 million metric tonnes, while Ivory Coast is doing about two million tonnes. “Nigeria is not moving forward much,” he said.
Despite the farmlands lost to urbanisation, Mr Adegoke said Nigeria can leapfrog those two countries with proper planning and execution. “Nigerian farmers are on their own. No support from anyone and even when they buy inputs, they are fake. Nobody to report to, no insurance. Even when buyers are cheating the farmers, nobody comes to their rescue,” he said.
His views are shared by Patric Ajibola, the Executive Director of CRIN.
Mr Ajibola said frustrated farmers are cutting down cocoa trees to plant other crops. He said Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire pay attention to cocoa because it is one of their major exports.
r Ajibola said Nigerian cocoa farmers need to be supported to plant improved cocoa varieties. He also agrees that the sector needs a body to regulate its activities and reduce fraudulent practices across the cocoa value chains.
“If you look at the cocoa sector in Nigeria, the average cocoa farm in Nigeria is about 50 years old. Governments can help farmers rehabilitate their old farms, including by completely cutting down and replanting new varieties,” he said.
On his part, Mr Adegoke called for a science and technology-driven approach to revamping the sector, involving planting of disease-resistant crop varieties, use of fungicides and improved agronomic practices to reduce the impact of climate change on the industry.
He also advocated a concrete plan for backward integration, provision of incentives to farmers and sustainable funding of research institutes to enable them to develop varieties that can tolerate the extreme weather they are currently facing.
The CFAN president wants the plan to bring irrigation to cocoa, and replenish and refresh the land through fertiliser usage and natural organic processes.
“We need to establish a system that will make extension personnel available for interactions with farmers to solve problems,” he said.
This report is produced with support from the Centre for Journalism Innovation and Development (CJID)
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