The United States Government has urged the Federal Government to prioritise the development of the cocoa industry.
The US Diplomatic Mission to Nigeria said it was unfortunate that the country, which thrived on broad cocoa production and export, had failed to key into the rising universal demand for the agricultural commodity.
The US Consul General, Mr. Jefferey Hawkins, disclosed that even though there was an ‘insatiable’ worldwide craving for chocolate, a by-product of Cocoa, Nigeria was not positioning itself to take advantage of the opportunity.
He spoke in Lagos during the ‘Nigeria Cocoa Summit’ which was organised by the US Agency for International Development in conjunction with the Sustainable Trade Initiative.
According to the American envoy, with mass production of cocoa, Nigeria could target rising economies such as China and India and other developed nations whose citizens have developed a taste for chocolate.
He said, when he travels through the regions of Nigeria, he is surprise by the fact that cocoa is still raised by hand, not by machine, and remains a very labour-intensive commodity to produce. Cocoa production is still very much a family enterprise, from planting to carrying the bags of cocoa beans to the buyers, who may be far away from their farms.
“Despite the physical labour involved, farmers are realising very limited incomes from their efforts. Cocoa production here in Nigeria is diminishing. Cocoa farmers and their trees are aging, and farmers are getting some of the lowest yields on the continent’’.
Farmers are tending small plots of land, often less than two hectares and are not making the investments it needs to preserve quality or productivity. With high interest rates, and the cost of inputs exceeding farmers’ ability to pay, the sector is not seen as a feasible way to make a living. Sons and daughters of cocoa farmers are heading for the cities for other opportunities, Hawkins said.