By Ebun BABALOLA
Despite the money allocated to assist farmers, there are still so much agonies that money donâ€™t get to them. What would you attribute to this?
Every year, cocoa producing states present to the ministry of agriculture the farmerâ€™s need and how to tackle it. At the end of the day, somebody, somehow decide what goes out and who takes what. By the time this happens, passing through the ministry procedure and bureaucracy, a lot of time might have been wasted and at the end of it, farmers who lived far away from Abuja do not know what is going on there ,at the long run, the ministry bottleneck affect whatever the beauty of such a policy.
At the end of the day, the farmers who are in different locations within the states relied on their state government for any subsidized agricultural inputs .Because of the fortune we get from petroleum, agriculture had been abandonedÂ by the Federal Government.
Ideally the issue of agriculture ought not to be the business of the Federal Government but that of the state. The question therefore would be that, how many farmers in Umuahia that the people in Abuja know, or can they locate a farmer in far away Kwara State?
Let me tell you that if one per cent of the money spent in producing oil is spent on agriculture, Nigeria will not be where it is today. Let us ask ourselves these fundamental questions, how much are we putting in to get oil?
How much of other resources committed into it? What about other efforts?Â Our farmers languish in the farm with nothing to show for it. Yet, they were able to produce what we can now refer to as our total output. My stand is that if we put one per cent of what we are spending on oil per day on agriculture and particularly, on cocoa, we would not be where we are today in terms of cocoa production.
There is need to go back to where we have dumped our cocoa and resuscitate it in order to provide the need for foreign exchange, employment generation and source of nutrients to millions of Nigeriaâ€™s.Â After oil, cocoa remains the highest foreign earner in the country, why do we want to kill this lofty dream that can bail us out of the food crisis we are experiencing now.
In the days of old, when cocoa reached its peak, our naira currency was at per with dollars on the street of London, but today the story is different. If we stabilize our economy with a crop like cocoa which has shown a higher level of consistence in so many years, all other will fall in line.
The maiden edition of cocoa convention was just concluded in Ondo State without a representation from the Federal Ministry of Agriculture, what do you think is wrong?
This is what we have been saying. At times we have good policy on paper, but when it come to implementation, we are no where to be found. Take for instant the issue of cocoa, which is controlled by the National Cocoa Day Committee, (NCDC) headed by the Minister of Agriculture and Water Resources. He was supposed to have called for aÂ meeting of all the 14Â Cocoa Producing States and come with various blue print on how to move cocoa forward, yet nothing is done in the last two years.
You can now see our dilemma. How can we move forward in this type of circumstances?
But, we cannot fold our hands and see things degenerate the more. That is why we called for this convention which will be rotated among the 14 Cocoa Producers States.
As state government, we know our farmers, their needs and the benefit they would derive from cocoa if it is giving its topmost priority. We can relate with them directly, tackle some of their problems and we can now come together as one entity to jointly solve our problems, since the Federal Government has decided to keep mute on the issue of cocoa.
We have to come out with solutions and recommendation. Since nothing is happening, we need to come together, brainstorm and think of the way forward and tell those people in Abuja what can be done to assist the cocoa farmers in the rural areas.
It is worsen by the fact that, the ministry of commerce did not give us the money accrued from cocoa levied. Cocoa is generating money and somebody continue to keep it somewhere. What happens is what we do not know, we continue applying for it. If we are talking about diversification of our economy, the issue of cocoa cannot be under-estimated.
What is the motive behind this coca convention?
This is the first cocoa day convention that is why you see that the turnout was very impressive and encouraging. This is the first time we are coming together to discuss our peculiar problems and see areas where we can assist ourselves and proffers lasting solution to all these perennial problems. We are also ready to articulate our position and pass it to the relevant authority in Abuja. We are going to be rotating it among the stakeholders. It is a good development and we are going to use it as a spring board to actualise all our dreams on cocoa production.
We are happy it is a new innovation and at the end of it all, it would assist us to take cocoa to the next level which it deserves. The governor of Ondo State, Dr Olusegun Mimiko has taken up the challenge by hosting the maiden edition of the convention and all other states will follow suite.
What did you do as a body when cocoa was excluded from the crop that will not benefit from the Federal Government Largesse?
We made representation to the Presidency and letting the ministry of Agriculture and Water Resources know that we are not happy. If the minister, Dr Abba Ruma could declare from his own mouth at the 5th National Cocoa Day Convention in Umuahia last year, that cocoa is a candidate, how come that it is excluded from the #200 billion agric loan from the Central Bank? We have sent memo to the Acting President on the matter and we are going to make more representation to let him see reason with us why cocoa cannot be relegated in the country economy.
If the Presidency can guarantee us steady electricity, it will assist us and those in the rural area will have enough energy to do their little business. Our farmers will have the opportunity to store their goods and if possible dry them for better market. It will improve post harvest and processing activities. All these cocoa processed industries cannot break even because they spend a lot of money on generator which ought not to be, that is why there is no turning around.
A lot of our cocoa powder that are imported could have been processed in the country for our local consumption. I can go to China, get the necessary technology and produce cocoa wine. With availability of raw materials locally, I will be able to engage a lot of hands and give job opportunity to most of or graduates that are roaming about on the street.
People must have good education, health facilities and food must be put on peopleâ€™s table. If all these things are put in place, others will follow.
One of the complaint of cocoa farmers is that since the liberalisation of cocoa market, farmers have not been able to dictate the price of their goods. What are you doing to address this issue?
You know we are in the era of free world economy, and the whole world has turned into global village. The economic meltdown also affects us, but we are very lucky to survive because our economy is cash based. If bit has been credit economy, the heat could have been much. Idea rules the world and necessity is the mother of invention.
The cocoa processors are also in a competitive economy, all over the world, therefore they are at the farm gate to maximise their resources by coming to the farm gate. It is difficult to control the price because it is an open market.
That is why we are campaigning seriously on the need for cocoa consumption in the country.
If we consume more, they will not have the type of problem they are facing now. Again. It is not going to be in our interest to stop the foreign buyers from buying. One advantage of cocoa today is that it gives a high foreign exchange, but we have a peculiar problem in this country, inability to control our point of entry of our market system.
Every Tom,Dick and HarryÂ can just come into the market since he has the cash, buy and go, no control, no guiding principle unlike in other countries. This is the dilemma..
The best thing for us is to be able to control and determine the cost of our product. We produce, but somebody decides what to pay for it. It is not done anywhere in a serious economy. If we are able to determine the price of our produce. Then we would have gone places.We are seriously looking forÂ how to get out of thisÂ problem. It is a challenge, but we are going to get it right.