- NIGERIA’S ENTHUSIASM TO OUTPERFORM GHANA AND IVORY COAST COCOA PRODUCTION
Since the beginning of 2022, one of the major announcements that dominated news within the cocoa chocolate sector was Nigeria’s announcement to revive its cocoa sector with the ambition to overtake Ghana and Ivory Coast to become the global leader in cocoa production by 2027 and I considered whether this was political rhetoric.
However, to not write it off entirely, I decided to follow this topic closely by following the National President of the Cocoa Farmers Association of Nigeria (CFAN), Mr Adeola Adegoke, on LinkedIn to monitor the tactical progress he and his team are making on advancing this ambition. My healthy dose of scepticism is grounded on the industry practice of using speculations and negatively intentioned support systems for producing countries to influence the global market price and value chain dominance.
An example was when Mars and Barry Callebaut declared that the sector would experience a million-ton shortage in cocoa production by 2020. Chocolate companies used this as a reference point to launch various business-biased sustainability programmes framed to support the farmers to be “climate resilient”. Instead, they used their sustainability initiatives as an opportunity to increase cocoa production substantially to drive down the price. Cocoa-producing countries like Ghana and Ivory Coast have always seen any foreign-driven sustainability initiative focused on cocoa production increase as a political scoring point, as the Ghana population has over the years been prepped to see increased cocoa production as a key performance indicator, with no regard to its effects on price and farmers livelihoods.
On the contrary, I saw Mr Adeola publishing some of the stakeholder engagement his team has had with the government, civil societies, and the farmers to revive the Nigeria cocoa sector. Another initiative I saw them launch was the “The Cocoa GAP Handbook” distribution to all cocoa farmers. (Good Agricultural Practices GAP) This Handbook was touted to be well-written guidance on their farmers’ good agronomic and farm management practices. The objective is to help them produce high-quality cocoa beans without damaging the environment or exploiting labour to achieve the national goal of producing 500,000MT of cocoa by 2024 and becoming the leading producer globally by 2027.
I interviewed Mr Adeola Adegoke to understand what underpins the sudden rise in interest in reviving the industry, which I would argue still doesn’t hold any prospects of changing the lives of cocoa farmers for the better. At the beginning of the interview, Mr Adeola wasn’t surprised that such news was of interest to Ghanaians. He felt Nigeria wanted to be the world leader in cocoa production. To him, reviving the sector and increasing Nigeria’s output wasn’t rocket science. This is because he believes they have all the competitive advantages. They have also been monitoring the opportunities emanating from the sector, especially the success Ghana and Ivory Coast are achieving with increased production, the institution of the Living Income differential, etc. He felt that Ghana and ivory Coasts’ cocoa production increases resulted from a formidable public and private sector partnership.
He added that Nigeria is not entirely new to cocoa production or being a world leader in cocoa production. In 1950, he said that Nigeria was the 2nd largest cocoa producer in the world with annual 590,000mt output. With an average land size of 500,000 hectares and less than 400,000 cocoa farmers. Agriculture, he added, was the most significant contributor to Nigeria’s GDP and foreign exchange earnings. However, when the Oil boom started in 1960, the Nigerian Government diverted its attention and resource to the Oil sector, affecting the cocoa sector since then. Before this, the Government machinery was heavily dependent on Cocoa proceeds.
For example, the first free education in Nigeria happened in two cocoa-growing regions and was financed from cocoa proceeds. The first radio and television station in West Africa, in Nigeria, was built with the profits of the Cocoa trade. Most of the roads that were constructed were financed with cocoa proceeds. During this period, the farmers were producing about 650kg per hectare. This, he believes, demonstrates the production competence of Nigeria. They had a department called the cocoa development unit with the mandate to provide extension services for cocoa farmers. All these were investments and commitments the government had in cocoa until the Oil boom.
So, if the Land size of Ghana and the Ivory Coast can produce over 60% of the world’s beans, imagine what Nigeria can produce if they were serious. So, to him, Ghana and the Ivory Coast are leading not by coincidence or accident. It’s because Nigeria wasn’t serious. Ghana and Ivory Coast increased attraction to various sustainability programmes is due to their government’s political will to invest in the sector as compared to Nigeria.
He further asserted that between the last 20 to 40 years, the Cocoa Research Institute of Nigeria (CRIN) was adjudged the best cocoa research institute in the world (Note, I tried fact-checking this online but didn’t find any resources that seem to have suggested that. It may or may not be possible. I can’t confirm at this stage). This Institute has some of the best seed gardens that allow each cocoa pod to produce at least a kilogram of beans. He used this as an example to assert the strength Nigeria holds from a research and development standpoint.
So, when he became the president of the Cocoa Farmers Association of Nigeria (CFAN), he asked himself, “what is Nigeria’s competitive advantage in cocoa production, realising how existing cocoa plantations were producing under capacity due to low investment. Other questions were how he and his team could increase Nigeria’s overall annual cocoa production, incentivise farmers to stay in Cocoa farming, encourage the youth to venture into cocoa production, advocate for better government policies, create investment opportunities, develop improved seedlings capable of generating two metric tons per hectare, create good extension services, create sustainability programmes that help farmers to protect the environment, contribute to carbon credits, become anti-child labour, ensure all cocoa farms are traceable, that the cocoa supply chain is transparent, provide due diligence in cocoa production, motivate cocoa farmers to practice good agronomic and cocoa agroforest standards towards ensuring that 80% of their cocoa is premium produced, etc.
Whereas these questions or aims remain unanswered and ambitious, He strongly believes its achievable due to the following existing competitive advantages Nigeria have:
- Possession of a population and fertile lands larger than Ghana and Ivory Coast combined,
- Hosting one of the best cocoa research institutes in the world with a record of high-yielding seeds in its seed gardens.
- An initial positive stakeholder engagement and political commitment from stakeholders, including the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and rural development, Federal ministry of industry and investment, export promotion council, Cocoa Researchers institute of Nigeria export and buyers, input developers, on new policies development and strategy discussions
He acknowledged the critical role Ghana’s Cocoa Board’s Management has played in supporting them in their renewed advocacy to revive the cocoa sector in Nigeria. He added that Ghana invited them for a visit to discuss how Nigeria can be part of the LID (this visit happened a month after the interview as promised). So, to him, collaborating with Ghana is crucial even though their objective is to surpass Ghana, using their competitive advantages (outline above). One interesting thing he said was how mining, compared to Ghana, wasn’t throwing a significant challenge to cocoa farmers in Nigeria’s cocoa farming states. To the extent that Cocoa farmers, he claims, benefit from their trade more than those in Mining hence not having the incentive to engage in illegal mining.
As he thanked the Ghanaian and Ivorian Governments and the strides they have taken to secure the Living Income Differential for its farmers; he did not relent in sending a message to the EU leadership, highlighting the need for them to see the new LID policy as a modern way to shift the colonially structured buying process that leaves farmers being paid below the poverty line. He believes the LID will help compensate for the substantial investment farmers make in their farmers and increase profitability hence making cocoa farming attractive. The LID was the main objective for Nigeria to consider reviving its cocoa sector.
In the following article, I further interrogated him on the goals they wanted to achieve with their renaissance and their awareness of the effects of their direction of travel. We discussed what they found worthy of learning from Ghana and Ivory and why.