By Itohan Abara-Laserian
For any country or state, value addition to agricultural products means more foreign exchange earnings; food sufficiency and safety as well as increased Gross Domestic Product, GDP.
For the farmer, value addition can only mean more money and improved livelihood.
In Africa, Kenya records about 18 aircraft flying out of the country with agricultural products to Europe on a daily basis, which has earned them the appellation, Africa’s biggest agriculture produce exporter.
Since the President Muhammadu Buhari-led administration, priority has been placed on agricultural activities leading to boost in commodity production, agribusiness and agro-enterprise developments, food security, mechanisation and commercial farming across the country.
At the onset of the Green Revolution by this administration, states were encouraged to select and develop crops of their comparative advantage to further drive a non-oil economy and Lagos State chose COCONUT.
The activities of the Lagos State Coconut Development Authority, LASCODA under the Lagos State Ministry of Agriculture and how they are seriously taking steps to develop the value chains around coconut to increase Internally Generated Revenue, IGR of the state, is noteworthy.
One very huge step taken by the state government under Governor Akinwumi Ambode to achieve consumption of wholesome and healthy foods is by including coconut in the diet of Lagosians, which leads to coconut value chain development.
Lagos is known for its coconut heritage, producing about 70 per cent of the national output of 267,520 metric tonnes, meaning Lagos alone produces de-husked nuts of 187,264 metric tonnes of coconut annually.
The Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture, Dr Olayiwole Onasanya, says that until recently, coconut was becoming moribund and needed a total overhaul from plantation rejuvenation, to value addition and planting of hybrid and improved seeds.
According to Onasanya, farmers were at some point losing interest in the coconut business and they only maintained the subsistence farming level, neglecting many derivatives of up to 150 from coconuts.
“In the past years, although, I will not say that coconut has been neglected, but pre-1990s, there were many moribund coconut plantations, some of them very old, that were yielding very poorly.
“Therefore, farmers hardly looked at them except when it has fruits, they will harvest and make some meagre amount. It was being practised at a subsistence level at that time.
“In 1999, what we did was to draw out a plan to improve coconut production and to do a lot of rehabilitation, and then plant highly improved varieties that will yield well and also diversification of coconut.
“In the past three years, we rehabilitated over 10 hectares of coconut plantation grooves; we have also looked at coconut from the angle of being a miracle crop that you can produce 150 derivatives from such as bread, oil, artwork, milk, motor industry and others.
“On the IGR, by the time we do what we are doing in the next three years, coconut will increase contributions to the IGR of Lagos State, it is not that coconut does not contribute but its contribution is very minimal,” the permanent secretary said.
One of the major achievements of the state government was to roll out the Eko Coconut Bread, where it partnered with 10 bakeries for the production of about 500 loaves per bakery on a daily basis.
The government also empowered the bakeries with inputs like tricycles, two kiosks each, 250,000 bread wrappers each and cash.
Dr Onasanya said the initiative has increased marketing and believability in coconut by 15 per cent within a short time and also the art of using shells for decoration has also improved the coconut shell market by 10 per cent.
“We are yet to tap 100 per cent commercialisation of coconut, we have worked on coconut oil; coconut water; coconut chips and designated coconut, and if we sustain the tempo, we will achieve a whole lot.
“The bread will not be limited to Lagos State alone, we have plans to extend to other states, as we did with Lake Rice which Ogun is feeling the impact, so we are sure that Eko Coconut Bread will become a staple in Nigeria.
“The Eko Coconut Bread initiative is gaining ground across the state and apart from the 10 initial bakeries engaged, more bakeries are showing interest to work with us and that will trickle down to increased production of coconut,” he said.
Mrs Owolabi Amodu, Managing Director of Floffy Dough Bakery, one of the 10 bakeries in partnership with the state government on Eko Coconut Bread production, says that the acceptance and sales volume has been very impressive.
Currently, each of the 10 bakeries produces an average of 500 loaves of coconut bread, so, daily bout 5,000 loaves are produced and jobs have been established through this value chain.
Mr Femi Oke, the chairman of the Lagos State chapter of the All Farmers Association of Nigeria, AFAN, says the development in the area of adding value to coconut has improved the livelihoods of farmers in the state.
Oke said that members, who were coconut processors and farmers, were happy and ready to work with LASCODA to ensure that the efforts yielded the desired results.
He, however, gave a list of the challenges Badagry coconut farmers and processors were faced with from very bad road network to funds and modern technology.
“On rejuvenation of plantations, the government is doing a lot because I know of a five-hectare plantation in Epe currently where new varieties were planted.
“However, farmers are not happy because of the road network which is in a terrible state; processing machines like de-shelling and coconut meat extractor and inadequate funding among others,” he said.
From the foregoing, it is not only in Badagry and the coastal areas that coconut trees grow. They also do well in the hinterlands.
If it is so, what government should do where the precious tree grows is to get the variety that can give high yield.
Again, they should think of how to ensure that they use modern technology to produce coconuts, explore and exploit all its value chains for the growth of the economy, employment for youths and improve the IGR.