Nigeria nurtures its once-unloved cocoa industry as prices flourish

Fri Sep 5, 2014 1:37am EDT
 
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By Chijioke Ohuocha

AKURE Nigeria (Reuters) - College graduate Omatayo Adeniyi stands in a humid tropical forest of southwest Nigeria and explains why he chose cocoa farming over a white collar job in the city.

"There is money in the ground. The future is bright. I hope to make one tonne of cocoa by next year," he says from his farm in Ondo State.

Such optimism has for decades been rare among Nigeria's cocoa farmers: Many abandoned their fields and moved to cities in search of alternative work after commodity prices collapsed in the mid-1980s and the country's booming oil industry siphoned investment away from agriculture.

But years of focus on oil revenues has left Nigeria with a lack of industrial diversity and made it over-dependent on energy, which uses a lot of costly equipment but employs few people. So while the economy has been growing at an average of 7 percent for the past five years, it has failed to create jobs for many of Nigeria's 170 million people.

High unemployment and poverty levels have prompted the government to look again at cocoa with the aim of getting more people to grow a product for which prices have been rising.

Adeniyi's trees have been supplied by the government, which is also distributing plant pods and disease resistant seeds at subsidized rates, alongside cheap fertilisers, agricultural chemicals and training to improve practices.

Agriculture Minister Akinwumi Adesina aims to boost production to 1 million tonnes a year by 2018 - on a par with current number two global producer Ghana and approaching top grower Ivory Coast's projected 1.8 million tonnes for this year.

Nigeria says it's already on track to produce 500,000 tonnes of cocoa next year, double what it grew in 2012, and though analysts say that target may be optimistic, it is clear that no other cocoa growing country is boosting production as fast.   Continued...

 
Nigerian workers load cocoa beans into shipping containers for export to Western markets, in Lagos, January 26, 2005. REUTERS/Thomas Ashby