Nume Ekeghe with agency report
One year on from the election of President Muhammadu Buhari, Nigeria is still awaiting the promised policies to boost the cocoa sector, whose growth is seen as vital to offset a slump in oil revenue that has plunged the economy into crisis.
Buhari routinely states the need to expand the agricultural sector to end the reliance of Africa’s biggest oil producer on crude exports and cut its $20 billion annual food import bill.
A priority is to develop cocoa farming, the only sizeable agriculture sector in the continent’s biggest economy to have survived government neglect since the 1950s oil discovery. But Buhari’s policies have not yet made it beyond the talking stage, a report by Reuters stated.
“The government has not come out clearly to say what they are pursuing for cocoa, so we are still in the dark,” said an official at the Cocoa Research Institute of Nigeria (CRIN), a body which advises the government.
Reuters was unable to get a comment from the government on its agricultural policies.
Cocoa farmers in Nigeria, the world’s fourth-largest grower, have recently enjoyed bumper profits, but this is due to high global prices for raw beans rather than government intervention.
At the same time, for cocoa processors, Buhari’s foreign exchange policies have added to a crisis, as grinders struggle to get dollars to import spare parts, since the central bank has imposed hefty curbs to support the naira.
This, combined with high bean prices, Nigeria’s high transport costs and sporadic power supply, have driven up production costs, causing several plants to shut in recent months.
“There are about eight processing factories in Nigeria and I think only three or four of us are in operation,” said Cocoa Products (Ile-Oluji) Managing Director, Akin Olusuyi based in southwestern Ondo, the country’s largest cocoa producing state.
Olusuyi struggles to afford raw beans as traders, lured by a surge in global prices, offer farmers dollars and snap up part of the harvest usually going to grinders. As a result, his plant’s output fell to 4,000 tonnes last year, a fraction of its 30,000 tonnes capacity.
So far the clearest message from Buhari’s administration is that it will retain many of its predecessor’s policies.
“We’re looking forward to quick intervention, quick action on the part of government … But we haven’t seen that yet,” said cocoa consultant, Robo Adhuse, who works with farmers and non-governmental organisations.