Before the oil boom, cocoa and palm oil were the mainstay of Nigeria’s economy. The boom shifted the country’s attention from tree crop production, a situation that led to the collapse of the once important export revenue.
Nigeria produces about 1.015million tonnes of palm oil, while countries like Indonesia and Malaysia are doing over 43million and 19million tonnes respectively.
For cocoa, Nigeria produces 328,263 metric tonnes, whereas countries like Ivory Coast and Ghana are doing over 2million and 800,000 metric tonnes respectively as the continent takes over 50 per cent global market share.
Farmers and processors in the industry, however, want the Federal Government, through the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), to set up a special intervention for the tree crops development if the country must return to glorious days.
Henry Olatujoye, the chairman, Board of Trustees (BoT) of the Oil Palm Association of Nigeria, said the CBN should set up a special tree crop development fund with near zero interest at 2 per cent. This, he argued, would allow the kind of impact made in rice in crops like cocoa, oil palm and rubber.
“In cocoa and oil palm, the gestation period is three to five years and no bank is willing to give a loan with such moratorium. All the tree crops in Nigeria have derivatives. Oil palm has 15, cocoa has about seven and rubber has three. So what the CBN needs to do is create a special fund for the tree crop development,’’ he said.
The CBN, however, disclosed recently that as at April 2020, it had disbursed N34.34b to major oil palm companies, with a plan to plant new 100,000 hectares of palm trees by 2025, starting with 20,000 hectares in 2020.
But the national president of the Oil Palm Farmers Association of Nigeria, Igwe Hilary Uche, said the CBN should fund the small-scale local farmers instead of the major multinational giant companies.
He said that despite the various meetings with the apex bank and the setting up of various clusters with off-takers across major producing states, local farmers were yet to be enlisted in the Anchor Borrowers Programme.
This is, however, not the case with cocoa as the national president of the Cocoa Farmers Association of Nigeria, Mr Adeola Oluwatoyin Adegoke, said the CBN had released over N700million to 1,221 cocoa farmers in 10 states, with each farmer taking about N592,332 for maintenance of the existing cocoa plantations.
He said the current intervention was designed to increase the farmers’ productivity beyond the current abysmal level of 300kg of cocoa beans per hectare to about 800kg as obtained in Ivory Coast, Ghana Peru, Colombia and other countries.
Experts believe government’s efforts in funding the agricultural sector are already yielding results as the international trade data from the first quarter of 2020 showed that agric and raw material sectors were the only items that increased.
They believe that the grains are already picking up and a similar effort needs to be intensified in the tree crops to enable the country regain export positions in the international market, especially now that the crude earnings and unemployment figures have not been good in recent years.