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HomeEditorialOpinionENGAGING THE YOUTHS IN THE AKWA IBOM STATE GOVERNMENT COCOA PRODUCTION PLAN

ENGAGING THE YOUTHS IN THE AKWA IBOM STATE GOVERNMENT COCOA PRODUCTION PLAN

UDOM
By Abasifreke Effiong
Cocoa was one of Nigeria’s major exports until 1965 when crude oil leapt over it. Revenue from cocoa formed part of the funds used for landmark projects- infrastructure and funding of the free education in the South-West region under Late Chief Obafemi Awolowo, the Premier of the region.
Nigeria currently produces between 200,000 to 300,000 tons of cocoa annually in spite dwindling interest and investment in the business. In 2013 alone the country’s total cocoa trade volume with Europe was $50 billion.
In 2014, Dr. Olusegun Aganga, then Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment while speaking at the Nigerian Cocoa Value Addition summit in Abuja said finished goods made from cocoa sold for about $200 billion. Nigeria earned N140 billion from cocoa exports in 2014, this was despite low investment in improving the product’s value chain.
With low fortunes from crude oil, Nigerians are looking elsewhere. Agriculture is becoming the next most sought after option, and cash crop like cocoa has caught the interest of many States.
Aware of the vistas in cocoa business, Akwa Ibom State Government has decided to invest a chunk of the N5.8 billion earmarked for capital expenditure for the Ministry of Agriculture and Natural Resources this year in cocoa production.
Governor Udom Emmanuel, while giving sectoral estimates for 2016, said his government hopes to use agriculture as a major avenue for youth engagement and economic development. Though government has not unfolded details of this proposal yet, the Governor said the State will create jobs and wealth through its investment in cocoa.
This proposal is a piece de resistance of all the State government’s economic blueprint, in that it comes handy when the Federal Government is contemplating an expansion project in cocoa processing and manufacturing, which can create thousands of jobs.
If the governor is serious with this proposal, Akwa Ibom State can draw funds from the N100 billion Federal Government Cocoa Development Fund when it is activated. The fund proposed under President Goodluck Jonathan is meant to finance the rehabilitation and expansion of cocoa plantations across the producing States nationwide; expand access of cocoa farmers to agricultural inputs, and support the take off of the proposed Cocoa Corporation of Nigeria.
Cocoa bean is in high demand all over the world most especially in developed countries particularly in Europe and Asia. Africa is the highest producer of this commodity. Currently Nigeria is the second highest producer of cocoa. It produces 19 per cent of annual output. Before the 1980s Nigeria was the highest producer and exporter of cocoa bean; today Ivory Coast is contributing over 39 per cent of global output. Currently the annual total output of cocoa is below global demand; hence Akwa Ibom State can close up the supply deficit and grow her revenue base.
Aside the revenue, the cocoa value chain is a long one; this process can eliminate possible trade distributions arising from externally dependent economy by ensuring availability of raw materials for industries, expansion in the State’s industrial activities with a multiplier effect in employment opportunities. The cocoa value chain begins with the farmers, collectors, middlemen, cooperatives, exporters, grinders, the confectionery industry, industrial users – pharmaceutical and tobacco, as well as retailers. This chain can provide a web of employment opportunities.
Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, a former Minister of Agriculture said an expansion in the cocoa production chain can create about 390,000 jobs; Akwa Ibom can make a fortune from this.
Akwa Ibom State has a vast arable land which has not been yet been ploughed. It is also blessed with a viable pool of labour that is underutilized, and a temperate climate that can support cocoa farming, yet these invaluable resources have remained untapped.
The State is named as one of the cocoa producing States in the country, although no community in the State has produced a quantity large enough for export due to lack of interest in the venture by individuals and government.
A major challenge to cocoa farming in the State is fragmented land ownership system. A few farmers who would have contemplated taking up cocoa farming as a business do not have access to land and finance. Cocoa farming is a capital intensive investment.
With the volume of opportunities available in the cocoa value chain, it is imperative for the Akwa Ibom State Government to stir interest, invest and encourage sustained investment in cocoa farming. The government should encourage the youths through training, land donation and other agricultural inputs to grow cocoa in large scale so that Akwa Ibom State and the country can optimally explore the increasing opportunities in the global market.
To up interest in this business, government can encourage the youths to form cooperatives for this purpose; allocate a parcel of land, cocoa seedlings and other inputs to them to start a cocoa plantation. This proposal can function under a joint ownership arrangement, where government owns the land, while the cooperatives own the crops. With this kind of engagement, government will ensure that land allocated for cocoa plantation is not used for unauthorized purposes.
The government can also support independent farmers who have the land but do not have the funds and skills for investment.

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