An Interview with the President of the Cocoa Farmers Association of Nigeria (CFAN)
Since the beginning of 2022, one of the major announcements that dominated news within the cocoa chocolate sector was Nigeria’s announcement to revive its cocoa sector with the ambition to overtake Ghana and Ivory Coast to become the global leader in cocoa production by 2027. I wondered whether this was political rhetoric or the industrial’s usual price-adjusting speculation. However, to not write it off entirely, I decided to follow this topic closely by following the National President of the Cocoa Farmers Association of Nigeria (CFAN), Mr Adeola Adegoke, on LinkedIn to monitor the tactical progress he and his team are making on advancing this ambition. My healthy dose of scepticism is grounded on the industry practice of using speculations and negatively intentioned support systems for producing countries to influence the global market price and value chain dominance.
An example was when Mars and Barry Callebaut declared that the sector would experience a million-ton shortage in cocoa production by 2020. Chocolate companies used this as a reference point to launch various business-biased sustainability programmes framed to support the farmers to be “climate resilient”. Instead, they used their sustainability initiatives as an opportunity to increase cocoa production substantially to drive down the price. Cocoa-producing countries like Ghana and Ivory Coast have always seen any foreign-driven sustainability initiative focused on cocoa production increase as a political scoring point, as the Ghana population has over the years been prepped to see increased cocoa production as a key performance indicator, with no regard to its effects on price and farmers livelihoods.
On the contrary, I saw Mr Adeola publishing some of the stakeholder engagements his team has had with the government, civil societies, and the farmers to revive the Nigeria cocoa sector. Another initiative I saw them launch was the “The Cocoa GAP Handbook” distribution to all cocoa farmers. (Good Agricultural Practices GAP) This Handbook was touted to be well-written guidance on their farmers’ good agronomic and farm management practices. The objective is to help them produce high-quality cocoa beans without damaging the environment or exploiting labour to achieve the national goal of producing 500,000MT of cocoa by 2024 and becoming the leading producer globally by 2027.
I interviewed Mr Adeola Adegoke to understand what underpins the sudden rise in interest in reviving the industry, which I would argue still doesn’t hold any prospects of changing the lives of cocoa farmers for the better. At the beginning of the interview, Mr Adeola wasn’t surprised that such news was of interest to Ghanaians. He felt Nigeria wanted to be the world leader in cocoa production. To him, reviving the sector and increasing Nigeria’s output wasn’t rocket science. This is because he believes they have all the competitive advantages. They have also been monitoring the opportunities emanating from the sector, especially the success Ghana and Ivory Coast are achieving with increased production, the institution of the Living Income differential, etc. He felt that Ghana and ivory Coasts’ cocoa production increases resulted from a formidable public and private sector partnership.
He added that Nigeria is not entirely new to cocoa production or being a world leader. In 1950, he said that Nigeria was the 2nd largest cocoa producer in the world with annual 590,000mt output. With an average land size of 500,000 hectares and less than 400,000 cocoa farmers. Agriculture, he added, was the most significant contributor to Nigeria’s GDP and foreign exchange earnings. However, when the Oil boom started in 1960, the Nigerian Government diverted its attention and resource to the Oil sector, affecting the cocoa sector since then. Before this, the Government machinery was heavily dependent on Cocoa proceeds.
For example, the first free education in Nigeria happened in two cocoa-growing regions and was financed from cocoa proceeds. The first radio and television station in West Africa, in Nigeria, was built with the profits of the Cocoa trade. Most of the roads that were constructed were financed with cocoa proceeds. During this period, the farmers were producing about 650kg per hectare. This, he believes, demonstrates the production competence of Nigeria. They had a department called the cocoa development unit with the mandate to provide extension services for cocoa farmers. All these were investments and commitments the government had in cocoa until the Oil boom.
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