Beyond Field School, Cocoa Farmers Now Have More Money For Higher Values
By Olukayode Oyeleye
The penultimate Friday meeting of the national steering committee of the Sustainable Tree Crop Programme (STCP), held in Akure, threw up a number of things that need to engage the minds of all that are serious about transforming agriculture in Nigeria in general and cocoa business in particular.
Following Akin Oluwalade’s presentation, it became clear that the Farmers’ Field School that started, according to Mr. Ejide Aladesaiye, “like a child’s play,” and “has been adopted by Ondo State as an extension methodology,” has now become a bride of the federal government. Oluwalade told participants at the meeting that “an expansion of the scheme is being proposed by the federal Ministry of Agriculture.”
At the meeting, where the third year’s semi-annual progress report was given, covering the period between last year’s October and March this year, Oluwalade recalled the efforts of STCP-Nigeria to promote the uptake of the community-based nursery scheme by individuals, farmers’ groups and communities. He said “about 66,000 seedlings are being raised. “We are trying to measure the impact of the FFS in Ondo and Cross River states, Oluwalade stated.
Many other key issues came out of the report. One of them was the study visit conducted by some members of the steering committee to Edo, Abia and Cross River states earlier in the year to observe the nurseries initiatives and how far and well they have fared.
Another was the three-day training workshop on monitoring and evaluation system, organised by STCP-Nigeria in collaboration with the National Cocoa Development Committee (NCDC) for cocoa desk officers and managers of Agricultural Development Programmes from the 14 cocoa-producing states of the country. It was described as a step towards consolidating the integration of the FFS into the national extension delivery system.
The support given to three cooperatives in the collective trading efforts during the last training campaign ending in February also came under focus. One of them, the Itunta High Quality Cocoa Farmers’ Multipurpose Cooperative Society (IFMCS) was said to have carried out its first collective trading activity within the period.
Cyril Ugwu of SOCODEVI, a partner NGO working alongside STCP, disclosed that within the period under review, SOCODEVI and STCP facilitated the establishment of two cocoa quality testing laboratories for CRACCU and Ife Cooperative Produce Marketing Union (ICPMU)as means of assisting them have quality specification for their produce before sales.
In Ugwu’s findings, “small holders, individually, don’t have bargaining power, but they could (trade better) under cooperatives where they aggregate their produce and sell.” He also observed, rather sadly, that many cooperative members are ageing and would soon be out of the way. For instance, he disclosed that, during their foray into Ife cooperatives to find out how to assist them, “average membership of Ife cooperative was 60 years,” predicting that, without addition of young members, “the cooperative would be dead in 10 years.” He also observed that their average annual production was going down by 40 per cent, asking “what happens to them in few years’ time?”
STCP’s Country Manager, Dr. Chris Okafor, hinted that the World Cocoa Foundation and leading chocolate industry companies, in partnership with Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation announced a $40 million development programme to focus on improving the livelihooods of cocoa farmers in five countries in West Africa, namely: Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Nigeria, Cameroon and Liberia.
He disclosed that the programme, which is officially known as the Cocoa Livelihood Program (CLP) has commenced operations with preliminary activities such as planning meetings at the country and regional levels, and site selection. According to Okafor, CLP is has five technical partners that “are required to work closely together as a team in the implementation of the programme activities.”
A leading cocoa farmer, David Onyenweaku, attested to a yield difference he has recorded through adoption of the skills he gathered through trainings he had received, particularly with the discretion in the use of chemicals. Henry Adesioye, a processor, lamented that majority of farmers still hold to old ways of doing things despite the trainings they have received from STCP. He said quality of cocoa still has much to be improved upon, saying without quality, the issue of asking for premium over cocoa beans does not arise.
Sam Odoemelam, general manager of Cocoa Development Unit, Abia State, blamed the quality problem on those who give farmers cash in anticipation of purchase of produce later. The arrangement, according to him, has forced farmers’ hands into compromising quality in attempts to deliver on promises.
Robo Adhuze of the Cocoa Association of Nigeria observed that STCP is constrained by funds, limiting its publicity reach, a view also corroborated by Aladesaiye, the programme manager of the Ondo State Agricultural Development Programme. Aladesaiye said he would want steps to be taken to improve on publicity, and would particularly want to see sources open for the funding of such activities.