High cocoa prices over the last year have encouraged Nigerian growers to boost output, but many fear the governmentâ€™s neglect of the sector may scuttle their efforts, the Cocoa Association of Nigeria (CAN) said on Friday.
Former President Olusegun Obasanjo launched an ambitious programme in 2005 to raise annual production to over 600,000 tonnes by 2008, which would mean Nigeria rivalling Ghana as the worldâ€™s number two grower.
But the programme lost momentum after late President Umaru Yarâ€™Adua took over three years ago.
Nigeria, the worldâ€™s fourth-biggest producer, grows around 300,000-350,000 tonnes of cocoa a year, according to the CAN. Government officials put the figure higher at 400,000-450,000 tonnes.
â€œIf the federal government had shown the same kind of zeal it showed about increasing cocoa output as it did before 2007, Nigeria would have hit the 600,000 tonnes mark by now because farmers were upbeat about the revival programme,â€ Paul Ojong, national vice president of CAN, told Reuters in an interview.
The aim of the programme, coordinated by the National Cocoa Development Committee (NCDC), was to rehabilitate old farms, supply heavily-subsidised agro-chemicals, start new plantations or replant aged ones with high-yield trees, and promote the local consumption of cocoa-based prodcuts to boost prices.
â€œThe NCDC has been silent in the last two years, it has not summoned any meetings since 2008 and this has adversely affected the sector as many people are facing difficulties,â€ Ojong said.
He said many young people who had started cocoa farming encouraged by the governmentâ€™s support programme, have either abandoned their farms or turned to other crops or businesses.
PRICE EXCITES GROWERS
Industry experts say some farmers in the southwest growing state of Ondo, which accounts for around 40 percent of Nigeriaâ€™s output, have resorted to the cultivation of marijuana on their plantations instead of cocoa to earn more money. â€œIf not for the sharp increase in cocoa prices in the last season, many more farmers would have abandoned their farms for other businesses because they are not getting any assistance from the government,â€ Ojong said.