Ondo state is known for cocoa cultivation in Nigeria and the state is one of the cocoa producing states that participated actively in the cocoa re-birth program initiated by Obasanjo administration.
In this chat with journalists recently, the State Commissioner for Agriculture and Natural Resources, Mr. Akin Akinnigbagbe, talked about their plans to take the cultivation of cocoa to the next level and why the state is organising a cocoa convention in March this year. Jimoh Babatunde who was there presents and excerpt from the chat.
Ondo state is one of the leading producers of cocoa in the country. What is your ministry doing to sustain the tempo?
As a matter of fact, we are the leading producer of cocoa and its export in the country. We still maintain that position till today. In the past and for a longer time cocoa has sustained our economy.Â WhatÂ we are trying to do is to take it to the next level and shift ourÂ attention to the latest technologyÂ that can assist our local farmer toÂ get maximum yield every year.
We have provided millions of seedling for the farmers in the state atÂ a highly subsidized rate so that theÂ farmers can embark on commercialÂ cocoa production, which at the long run will boost the economy ofÂ theÂ state and at the same time assist the farmers to move to the nextÂ level in terms of good sales at theÂ end of each year.
We are equally embarking on what l will call value addition to theÂ business of cocoa. This will take the form of processing it at homeÂ before selling into the international market. This will equally assistÂ theÂ farmers to get higher profit unlike in the past, when cocoa beansÂ are exported directly to theÂ international market; with the farmersÂ having no control on the price.
To encourage farmers, inputs are given to them at a highly subsidized rate, we tried to maintainÂ guaranteed minimum price and made sure thatÂ all that were produced by the farmers get to the rightÂ market.
In the area of consumption, we are trying to encourage the farmers to go intoÂ the area ofÂ production. A situation where our children will wake upÂ from their bed and demand for cocoaÂ beverages. If cocoa beans areÂ processed locally before export, it will attract more foreign earnings and it will also increase the desire to consume it locally.
Another area we are looking into is the massive production ofÂ seedlings running into millions to farmers at a subsidized rate. WeÂ have to take this step in order to re_position cocoa towards a largeÂ commercial ventures that will attract the younger once to farming. WeÂ want to maintain the first positionÂ and make sure that a new pace isÂ set in cocoa market both within and outside the country.
Transportation of cocoa beans from the farm to the nearest market hasÂ always been a problemÂ to most farmers. Is there anything you are doingÂ to solve this problem?
We have other agricultural produce like banana andÂ Â fruits which are equally money spinning for theÂ farmers. What we are trying to do isÂ that we have re-furbished some of these agricultural equipment inÂ preparation for opening most of the roads especially places whereÂ produce are very much. We want toÂ open these farm roads so thatÂ farmers will have the opportunity to transport their goods to theÂ nearestÂ market without much hassle.
WhatÂ Â are you doing at your end to make sure that younger people areÂ Â attracted to the farm?
We have all encompassingÂ Â empowerment programme that will attract younger generation into farming.Â That is why we are embanking on commercial agricultural farming where farmers were given incentiveÂ andÂ large scale of land to farm particularly on cash crop.
We provide the seedling, farm inputs and allÂ the encouragement that will encourage them on the farm. We let them realize that farming isÂ no longer for the poor, but for those who want to be rich in a matterÂ of few years. Farming is an assured economy unlike the oil where theÂ price is not stable. This is a stable economy that has sustained usÂ forÂ a long time and it will always do. Anybody who is going into itÂ will know that it actually worth it.
WeÂ are also going into extension services to sensitize people thatÂ this is an area you can go into and youÂ will never remain the sameÂ again in your financing. We donâ€™t want people to seat down and beÂ lookingÂ for cheap money but to work and earn good money through theirÂ sweat. We wantÂ Â people to be economically viable and financiallyÂ independent on their own so that nobody will enslave them.
In the days of old cocoa gestation period used to be between five to six years, but today due to latestÂ research, the gestation period isÂ between two and half to three years, you will be earning income. As aÂ cocoa farmer whatever your colleagues are earning as office workers,Â you can have multiple folds atÂ the end of eachÂ Â planning season, yetÂ you will be an employer of labour and be more comfortable.
Apart from that you will have enough food to eat because there are other crops that you will grow with cocoa. It is no longer the type ofÂ farming that our four fathers did; it will be a mechanized farming.
Price control has always been the bane of an average cocoa farmer, is there anything you are doingÂ along this line?
Cocoa is one of the major cash crop in the South West.We are talking about value addition inÂ agriculture, if it is for the big merchant, we have not done anything for the farmers We want a situationÂ where localÂ industries can spring up in this area that we have highly concentratedÂ raw material in termsÂ of cocoa beans, so that the raw seed could beÂ processed locally and the farmers can earn moreÂ income.
Plan is now at advanced stage where our children would be introducedÂ to cocoa beverages in the state, if you know the medicinal aspect ofÂ cocoa, you will understand what is talking about. .This willÂ give themÂ vitality and good health. We are equally talking to some investors whoÂ will come and investÂ in small scale industries on cocoa, this at theÂ long run will encourage local consumption and farmers willÂ be able toÂ bargain for a good price at the international market.
Ondo state is organizing a cocoa convention next month, what inform this decision?
This is the first time in the history of the country when a state is organizing such a convention. The ideaÂ behind this is that as aÂ front runner in the business of cocoa and the largest producer in the country, weÂ want to champion the crusade of operation localÂ consumption of cocoa in the country. Secondly weÂ want to sensitizeÂ people that cocoa cannot be relegated to the background.
This is a crop that has sustained us for ages and is still sustaining us. Therefore we want to brain stormÂ with all the stakeholders in thisÂ business and see how we can harness all our potentials together forÂ theÂ development of the state and that of the country at large. We know where we are coming from, weÂ know where we are now and we know whereÂ we are going. We want to take cocoa to the next levelÂ in the state,Â and that is why we are organizing a convention that will involve allÂ the stakeholders next month.
We want to speak with one voice and tell the Federal Government that this is the crop that is sustainingÂ us apart from oil, and that allÂ hand must be on deck to see that every encouragement is givenÂ to seeÂ that it is successful. Oil can dry up at any time but cocoa cannot. SoÂ we want to go all out to say thatÂ we need this crop to boost ourÂ economy and that all encouragement should be giving by the federal government to sustain this tempo.