Abuja– Akin Olotu is the Senior Special Assistant on Agriculture to Oluwarotimi Akeredolu Ondo state Governor. In this interview with Seyi Taiwo-Oguntuase, he speaks on the need for government to encourage local consumption of cocoa so as to address the fluctuation in price at the international market among other salient issues. Excerpts:
Stakeholders in the cocoa industry have said Nigerian should not only focus on export of cocoa but on how to increase local consumption, how can this be achieved knowing that cocoa drink is expensive and out of reach of the common man?
I believe by the time we address the supply end, the price will come down and by the time we increase processing locally the price will equally come down. For instance in Ethiopia, coffee is the mainstay of their economy. Government must embark on serious advocacy for the local consumption of cocoa.
In Ondo state, what we are doing is we are encouraging and integrating consumption of cocoa drink into the school feeding programme so that when our young ones get used to taking cocoa continuously the better for us. Just like Brazil, they did it for 12 years and today the teenagers in Brazil are sold into cocoa consumption, they are neck-deep into it because the school feeding programme they had in their country included cocoa drink and cocoa product in the arrangement.
That is what we are doing in Ondo state and I believe it has to be done nationwide. Let us begin to drink cocoa products in our parties whether naming, wedding or funeral ceremony and in government offices let us encourage the consumption so that the fluctuation in prices in the international market will be seriously addressed, because if the market is 80 or 90 per cent out of the country; then they will continue to dictate the price and that is why we have the cyclical fluctuations in the price of cocoa in the international market.
At the beginning of the year it may be a million naira per ton, before you know it, it will be hovering around N400, 000 per ton which is not good for us.
Another issue that has to be addressed is the cocoa marketing board; we just have to look at that again. There must be clearing house for cocoa, it is necessary; we just have to do it. I don’t see any government doing that 100 per cent, the farmers the producers, the processors must come together and have that platform and develop it.
Every stakeholder on the value chain of cocoa must come together in the country so as to fashion out a master plan for transforming cocoa in the country.
The coffee exchange platform in Ethiopia today is a world class one, you can use the receipt from coffee commodity exchange to access funds from the banks, that shows how organized that organisation is and it is private driven. We are looking at a situation where in this country we will have something similar and the day we do that the better for all of us.
We are aware of the health benefits, we are aware of the impact that cocoa will have on the economy; like I said we have to look at every link on the chain starting from production we must double what we are producing today or triple what we are producing within the next three to four years, there must be tremendous improvement in the production.
We are producing just 190,000 or 200,000 metric tonnes, whereas Cote d’Ivoire is producing something about 1.3 million tons, our 200,000 is not up to the 300,000 on their own million. Ghana is ahead of us, a lot of country has overtaken us, why because of the impact of the civil war and also the oil boom. So we have no option and our area of strength is in tree crops in this country.
I don’t know the number or the quantity of maize that we will produce that will make us to overtake America or the European countries, if we are thinking of having foreign exchange from agriculture it is basically in tree crops. I don’t know how we are going to do our poultry, our cattle that will make us to overtake Europe, Israel or United State of America, so where our strength lies is basically in tree crops, talking about oil palm, talking about cocoa, cashew, coffee, rubber and the likes, we must go back to the basis and ones we are able to address this, not just the production, the processing and even local utilisation, if we are able to do this you will discover that jobs will be created for our people there will be less pressure on naira we will earn more foreign exchange and the country will be better for it.
We have the land, we have the climatic factors that is very favourable to us, all we need is a good policy and clinical implementation; ones we do this we will be talking about revamping our economy.
Also, I am challenging cocoa farmers we must have a single association, and the emphasise must rest squarely on tree crops; on one association per commodity, not until we are able to do this, we will continue to have miscreants, we will continue to have people that does not have anything to do with agriculture that has nothing to do with farming parading and masquerading themselves as farmers and the big problem is that if you are not able to identify the real farmers you will discover that government intervention will never get to the right people.
What is Ondo State doing to assist cocoa farmers especially in the area of processing?
We have a cocoa value chain development agenda. As for processing we have a robust package for the small, medium and large scale processors. As you are aware we have the lion share of the processing company in the state and the government is looking at the access roads, the government is looking at assisting them facilitating them in terms of capacity building and making them to have access to world class resource persons that will be able to build up their capacity so that we will be in a position to do better.
Those are the things we are doing and apart from that the government of Oluwarotimi Akeredolu is working on energy because we are conscious of the fact that the cost of running factory is not very friendly and we are looking at renewable energy and we are also looking at independent power sources so that the cost of production will come down and the profit margin will go up.
Not that alone, we are working on having our young ones going into cottage processing of cocoa, they can produce something in sachet that is of good quality and acceptable to almost everybody.
Ondo state is one of the producers of cocoa in the country, what is your plan to rev up its production because Cross Rivers too is doing very well?
If Cross Rivers is doing very well, we are not sleeping. We are working and we are doing something great. We have 1,744 hectares put in place by Chief Obafemi Awolowo which we are rehabilitating under the Cocoa Value Chain Development Agenda, we have a new 2000 hectares that we are working on and we are already embarking on land clearing.
We are targeting 10,000 hectares new plantations for the next two years, so that within the next three or four years we will have younger cocoa trees than the old ones.
You have talked extensively as a cocoa farmer; what do you think we can do to actually help enlighten young cocoa farmers to been the major distributors of cocoa in Nigeria?
A lot could be done in that direction and we just have to do that because if you want to create jobs for our people if you want reasonable sources of foreign exchange for the country and for our economy we just have to promote cocoa production and face agriculture squarely as much as possible. In my own state Ondo state, the state government is focus on the value chain development of cocoa, we are starting right from the nursery stage where we are encouraging the young ones to go into the nursery business as full time profession and we believe they can make a lot through that. Apart from that we are looking at processing; we want to encourage people to process locally.
As we know those countries that are processing are the ones making more money, so why must we continue with the crude mentality, exportation of crude oil, exportation of everything crude in this country? In Ondo state the state government is resolute about local processing of cocoa to create jobs for our people to earn foreign exchange and to make the economy better.
I want to appeal to the financing house in the country, cocoa is not something you produce in three to six months and you begin to have returns we must have financial windows most especially from the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) from Bank of Agriculture (BOA) we must have credit window that will have a long term tenure so that people can assess this money and in three to four years before you begin to ask for repayment, if that is done you will discover that most of our young ones will go into cocoa production and the economy will be better for it.