NEPC, Abia State promote cocoa for exports

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Cross section of farmers and government dignitaries including the Deputy Governor of Abia State Chief Udeh Okochukwu inspecting the cocoa seedlings before distribution to farmers.

In a bid to enhance the contribution of non-oil sector to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of the nation, the Nigerian Export Promotion Council (NEPC), in collaboration with Abia State government, have agreed to build capacity of cocoa farmers, merchants and exporters within Abia State and its environs.

Over 600 participants are to benefit from the training programme, as part of the strategic effort to increase participation of Nigerians in cocoa export business. This activity is the first of its kind in Abia State and its environs, just as the same exercise has been organized in Ikom (Cross River State), and Akure in Ondo early this year.

The Acting Executive Director/Chief Executive Officer of NEPC, Mr. Abdullahi Sidi-Aliyu, said the activity is an integral part of NEPC’s Zero Oil Initiative which would be a game-changer for the economy especially in the area of expected revenue and job creation from the agro-business sub-sector. This is in line with the Federal Government’s determination to diversify the economy through non-oil exports.

According to the CEO “Records have shown that Nigeria’s earnings from cocoa and cocoa products accounted for $338.17m in 2015 and $242.23m in 2016 – amounting to 20.8% and 20.13% in the corresponding years respectively. Nigerian cocoa has consistently remained profitable for several decades, and rated one of the best in the world because of its flavour”.

Mr. Sidi-Aliyu, who was represented by the Director Product Development Department Mr. William Ezeagu, added that it is sad that Nigeria is yet to explore her potential in cocoa industry in the continent, when compared with countries such as Cote d’ Ivoire and Ghana. This prompted NEPC’s readiness to partner with state governments, Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), farmers and exporters of cocoa to work out programmes that would create the desired value chain in the sector.

The workshop would address the various challenges facing cocoa export business by equipping stakeholders with current standards and quality techniques that conforms to buyers’ requirements especially in the European Union market.

These are low cocoa prices, poor productivity and vulnerability to price downturns due to volatile commodity markets, limited knowledge of new/efficient farming techniques, poor or lack of organizational capacity among farmers’ groups, and poor pest control methods among others. These have continued to hamper Nigeria’s ability to command fair market share from the product internationally.

Statistically, Nigeria is presently rated as the fourth leading producer of cocoa beans in the world, behind Cote d’ Ivoire, Ghana and Indonesia. As at last April, 2017, Cote d’ Ivoire’s current cocoa output was 1, 148,992 tonnes while Ghana was second at 835,466 tons. Nigeria produced 367,000 tons of cocoa in 2017.

Declaring the workshop open, Abia State governor HE Okezie Ikeazu presented the inputs (seedlings, sprayers and pesticides) to the various cooperatives from Abia, Akwa Ibom and Imo states -representing over 50 organizations.

The governor, who was represented by his deputy Chief Udeh Okechukwu, called on cocoa farmers in the state and beyond to be more determined to improve their yields, since government has mapped out plans to boast cocoa business in the state in particular, and Nigeria as a whole.

He lamented that the state has dropped in Nigeria’s cocoa production ranking…from third to eighth position, and stated that “over 2, 000 Abians are involved in cocoa farming and depend on it for their living. This is the reason the state government was aggressively repositioning its cocoa sub-sector for increased development, hence the establishment of Cocoa Transformation Committee – to support the Abia Cocoa Farmers Association”.

The assumption is that with vast variation in output production of cocoa, the Federal Government intends to move the country up in ranking – as one of the leading grower of the cash crop over the next five years. So concrete effort has to be made to massively grow the product in order to achieve this aim.

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