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BOOSTING COCOA PRODUCTION

By NBF News

In the bid to boost cash crop production, the presidency has inaugurated a committee on cocoa planting, production and exportation. The committee, headed by the Minister of Agriculture, Prof. Ahmad Abdullah, was given six weeks to submit its report to government.

Government's new thinking, which came to the fore at the grand finale of the 6th National Cocoa Day held recently in Ilorin, Kwara State, is informed by the fact that cocoa used to be one of the major foreign exchange earners in the country. In fact, cocoa was the mainstay of the defunct Western Regional Government's economy in the 1960s.

To show that it is serious about rejuvenating cocoa planting and production, the government has earmarked N1 billion for each of the states of the federation for investment in the agricultural sector, with special emphasis on the planting of cocoa and other cash crops. Cocoa is produced by not less than 14 states in the federation and is widely used in food and beverage industries.

In addition, government has promised high subsidies for agro-chemical products, especially for those crops that have potential to eradicate poverty and unemployment in the country.

At the surface level, the plan to revamp cash crop production in the country is very good. Before independence and shortly after, the various regions depended on agricultural products, especially exportable cash crops, for their sustenance and development. The North had the groundnut pyramids; the West, cocoa; the East, palm oil; and the Mid-West, rubber.

Following the oil boom of the 1970s and 1980s, attention was shifted to oil exploration and exportation and the agricultural sector, which hitherto accounted for employment of over 70 percent of the population, was neglected and abandoned by farmers, who became emergency contractors and businessmen, overnight.

The oil boom took its toll on cocoa production, as it did other cash crops in Nigeria. Today, government is trying to reverse the situation by turning attention to the planting and development of the numerous cash crops that can earn foreign exchange for the country. Going back to the soil will, apart from boosting agricultural production, provide jobs for many unemployed Nigerians and help to reduce poverty in the land.

Fortunately, the country is well endowed with arable land capable of producing both cash crops and food crops. There is adequate space for animal husbandry of any range in all regions of the country. We also have enough body of waters for fish farming. If we can muster the political will, Nigeria has what it takes to be self-sufficient in food production and still have enough for export. The paradox is that we have neglected the old cash cow of the Nigerian economy to chase petrodollars and other inanities. Cocoa could have been a goldmine in the country but for the neglect it suffered in the hands of succeeding administrations in the country.

The problem of cocoa is also the lot of other cash crops in Nigeria. In the past, we grew cash crops mainly for export. Now, let us jettison the idea of producing these crops for foreign industries only. Government should set up industries that can utilize cocoa to manufacture many goods. We should find other creative and profitable ways of using cocoa to boost its production.

For government's lofty plans for cocoa to be achieved, all the problems militating against its production should be frontally addressed. The highest grades of the crop should be produced to attract higher prices in the international market. Cocoa should be put to better use for more profitability to the farmer and the government. One way to do this is to add value by processing it before export.

The neglect of this important cash crop that has hampered its economic potentials should be reversed. It is not too late to focus attention on cash crops as foreign exchange earners. It is good that we are starting with cocoa. Let the gesture be extended to other cash crops in the country.