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‘We want to add value to our cocoa’

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.

Mr. Akin Akinnigbagbe, Ondo State Commissioner for Agriculture.

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.  What  we are trying to do is to take it to the next level and shift our  attention to the latest technology  that can assist our local farmer to  get maximum yield every year.

We have provided millions of seedling for the farmers in the state at  a highly subsidized rate so that the  farmers can embark on commercial  cocoa production, which at the long run will boost the economy of  the  state and at the same time assist the farmers to move to the next  level in terms of good sales at the  end of each year.

We are equally embarking on what l will call value addition to the  business of cocoa. This will take the form of processing it at home  before selling into the international market. This will equally assist  the  farmers to get higher profit unlike in the past, when cocoa beans  are exported directly to the  international market; with the farmers  having no control on the price.

To encourage farmers, inputs are given to them at a highly subsidized rate, we tried to maintain  guaranteed minimum price and made sure that  all that were produced by the farmers get to the right  market.

In the area of consumption, we are trying to encourage the farmers to go into  the area of  production. A situation where our children will wake up  from their bed and demand for cocoa  beverages. If cocoa beans are  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 of  seedlings running into millions to farmers at a subsidized rate. We  have to take this step in order to re_position cocoa towards a large  commercial ventures that will attract the younger once to farming. We  want to maintain the first position  and make sure that a new pace is  set in cocoa market both within and outside the country.

Transportation of cocoa beans from the farm to the nearest market has  always been a problem  to most farmers. Is there anything you are doing  to solve this problem?

We have other agricultural produce like banana and   fruits which are equally money spinning for the  farmers. What we are trying to do is  that we have re-furbished some of these agricultural equipment in  preparation for opening most of the roads especially places where  produce are very much. We want to  open these farm roads so that  farmers will have the opportunity to transport their goods to the  nearest  market without much hassle.

What   are you doing at your end to make sure that younger people are   attracted to the farm?
We have all encompassing   empowerment programme that will attract younger generation into farming.  That is why we are embanking on commercial agricultural farming where farmers were given incentive  and  large scale of land to farm particularly on cash crop.

We provide the seedling, farm inputs and all  the encouragement that will encourage them on the farm. We let them realize that farming is  no longer for the poor, but for those who want to be rich in a matter  of few years. Farming is an assured economy unlike the oil where the  price is not stable. This is a stable economy that has sustained us  for  a long time and it will always do. Anybody who is going into it  will know that it actually worth it.

We  are also going into extension services to sensitize people that  this is an area you can go into and you  will never remain the same  again in your financing. We don’t want people to seat down and be  looking  for cheap money but to work and earn good money through their  sweat. We want   people to be economically viable and financially  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 latest  research, the gestation period is  between two and half to three years, you will be earning income. As a  cocoa farmer whatever your colleagues are earning as office workers,  you can have multiple folds at  the end of each   planning season, yet  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 of  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 doing  along this line?
Cocoa is one of the major cash crop in the South West.We are talking about value addition in  agriculture, if it is for the big merchant, we have not done anything for the farmers We want a situation  where local  industries can spring up in this area that we have highly concentrated  raw material in terms  of cocoa beans, so that the raw seed could be  processed locally and the farmers can earn more  income.

Plan is now at advanced stage where our children would be introduced  to cocoa beverages in the state, if you know the medicinal aspect of  cocoa, you will understand what is talking about. .This will  give them  vitality and good health. We are equally talking to some investors who  will come and invest  in small scale industries on cocoa, this at the  long run will encourage local consumption and farmers will  be able to  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 idea  behind this is that as a  front runner in the business of cocoa and the largest producer in the country, we  want to champion the crusade of operation local  consumption of cocoa in the country. Secondly we  want to sensitize  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 storm  with all the stakeholders in this  business and see how we can harness all our potentials together for  the  development of the state and that of the country at large. We know where we are coming from, we  know where we are now and we know where  we are going. We want to take cocoa to the next level  in the state,  and that is why we are organizing a convention that will involve all  the stakeholders next month.

We want to speak with one voice and tell the Federal Government that this is the crop that is sustaining  us apart from oil, and that all  hand must be on deck to see that every encouragement is given  to see  that it is successful. Oil can dry up at any time but cocoa cannot. So  we want to go all out to say that  we need this crop to boost our  economy and that all encouragement should be giving by the federal government to sustain this tempo.


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