In tandem with President Goodluck Jonathan’s Transformation Agenda, the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development has developed and is aggressively implementing an Agricultural Transformation Agenda. The focus is to assure food security, reduce expenditure of foreign exchange on food imports, diversify the economy, generate foreign exchange and create jobs.
In a major departure from past approaches, agriculture is now being treated as a business, not a development programme. The agenda is focused on major policy reforms to eliminate corruption in the seed and fertilizer sectors, improve the functioning of market institutions, establish staple crop processing zones to attract private sector into areas of high production to reduce post-harvest losses, add value to locally produced crops and foster rural economic growth.
In addition, the agenda includes improvement in rural infrastructure and access of farmers to financial services and markets. The transformation agenda sets out to create over 3.5 million jobs in the agricultural sector, from rice, cassava, sorghum, cocoa and cotton value chains, with many more jobs to come from other value chains under implementation. The agenda aims to provide over N300 billion (US$ 2 billion) of additional income in the hands of Nigerian farmers. Over N60 billion (US$ 380 million) is to be injected into the economy from the substitution of 20 per cent of bread wheat flour with cassava flour.
In total, the agricultural transformation agenda will add 20 million metric tons to domestic food supply by 2015, including rice (2 million metric tons), cassava (17 million metric tons) and Sorghum (1 million metric tons).
But let’s today focus on cocoa, which in its hay days contributed greatly to the Gross Domestic Product of the nation in the 60s. The goals of the Cocoa Transformation Agenda are to: Raise national cocoa production output to at least 500,000 MT by 2015 and achieve 1.0 million MT in 2018 through sustainable production systems by maintenance of existing farms, rehabilitation of old plantations and expansion programmes through intensification and good agricultural practices; improve the livelihood of at least 100,000 farmers by increasing the yield per hectare and cocoa income by US$450 every year in 250,000 farm households in cocoa producing states over the next four years; create at least 390,000 jobs from the sub-sector by doubling production; increasing processing capacity of factories; establishing and strengthening of small/medium-scale enterprises to produce fast moving consumer cocoa products from cocoa and its by-products and improving cocoa marketing in the states presently producing and/or with the potential to produce cocoa.
“It is pertinent at this juncture to restate the obvious which is that, the ministry, with the support of the majority of the stakeholders, will remain focused on achieving its objectives of restoring Nigeria to its past glorious position of the largest cocoa producer in the world by faithfully implementing the robust cocoa transformation agenda.” These were the strong words of the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, recently when he addressed the press on the incessant petitions by some members of the Cocoa Framers Association of Nigeria regarding agro-chemicals used in the sub-sector. The petitions have been making the rounds for some time and were largely attributed to some aggrieved groups within the association.
Adesina stressed: “In essence, the complaints of the Cocoa Farmers Association of Nigeria are disruptive, distractive and destructive and meant to obliterate the laudable programme of the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development in revamping the Nigeria cocoa industry.” Adesina, who was represented at the occasion by the Permanent Secretary of the ministry, Dr. Ezekiel Oyemomi, warned that much energy have been channelled into the Agriculture Transformation Agenda, especially in the crops that Nigeria has the potential and ability to become a major international player, and as such, the ministry will not condone such distractions.
Adesina added: “The ATA is designed to bring a paradigm shift in the way agriculture is done in this country. One of the changes is that the ministry is neither procuring nor awarding contracts for coco agro-chemicals as claimed by the Cocoa Framers Association of Nigeria. Rather, the Federal Government is facilitating access to agro-inputs under the Growth Enhancement Support scheme by contributing 25 per cent of the cost while state governments contribute 25 per cent of the market price directly from input suppliers.”
On the categories of agro-chemicals, which have become the subject of controversy, the minister informed: “the four agro-chemicals listed on the GES for cocoa production are not unpopular, dangerous or harmful to cocoa trees as insinuated by a faction of the association. They are pesticides that have been screened and registered by the Cocoa Research Institute of Nigeria. They are registered by the National Agency for the Control of Foods and Drugs Administration and Control, NAFDAC. The agro-chemicals are also approved by the European Union and have not been delisted by any organisation either locally or internationally.”
But whereas compliance with the use of the approved cocoa chemicals was also alleged to have been violated, the minister explained that the allegations are far from the truth so far as he is concerned. He pointed out that “to ensure compliance with the European Union guidelines on pesticides usage on cocoa and the provision of the right agro-chemicals to cocoa farmers, the ministry constituted a ministerial committee on Pesticides Usage in 2008 to end the use of banned pesticides with high Maximum Residue Limits. Accordingly, the ministry complied with the recommendations of the committee and provided guidelines on approved agro-chemicals for use on cocoa trees by cocoa farmers based on the European Union safety standards. This is to ensure that Nigerian cocoa is not banned by the EU importers.”
Adesina regarded the petitions as simply mischievous because “cocoa farmers were involved in the decision to roll out the agro-chemicals in GES this year as the association was represented at several meetings where consultations were made at Abuja (October 2011), Akure (November 2011) and Ibadan, (December 2011 and January 2012). Furthermore, the Cocoa Transformation Agenda, Coc.TA Team visited cocoa producing states on sensitisation and mobilisation tours to intimate stakeholders on the activities of the Cocoa Value Chain. Two high level meetings were held with the honourable minister on November 21, 2011 and on May 2, 2012 where the strategy for the cocoa transformation was presented to all stakeholders in the cocoa industry which included the agro-chemicals to be rolled out on the GES platform.”
As regards which stakeholders attended the aforementioned meetings, it was revealed that “the President of the Cocoa Farmers Association of Nigeria was at the cocoa GES roll out in Ilesa, Osun state, where cocoa farmers gladly bought the three fungicides that were rolled out. Similarly, cocoa farmers in Ekiti state also expressed their appreciation for the federal government of Nigeria for introducing the GES which in their view has saved them from the interception and corruption which hitherto had bedevilled the procurement and distribution of agro-inputs in the country.”
The bone of contention, according to the minister, seems to have arisen simply because “on the request of the association to include Ultimax Plus in the GES this year, their request could not be considered because decisions had already been taken on the agro-chemicals to include before their request was made. It had been decided that agro-chemicals not included in this year’s exercise will be included in the list of agro-chemicals for next year which is just a few months away. The ministry decided that this year, being the first year of implementing the Agriculture Transformation Agenda only older, tested agro-chemicals that farmers are familiar with will be used in the GES scheme.”
In terms of concrete achievement in the sub-sector, it was emphasised that, 65,525 cocoa farmers have been registered in the on-going national farmers registration with each provided with 200 sachets of approved fungicides, five bags of agrolyser fortified micronutrien
t fertilizer, release of eight new high yielding cocoa hybrids varieties, provision of 3.6 million hybrid pods and 114 million cocoa planting materials.
In the same vain, the ministry was said to be making advanced arrangements for the training of 135,000 cocoa farmers, rehabilitation of cocoa plantation in addition to incorporating cocoa marketing boards, cocoa quality improvement, branding as well as establishment of a “strong relationships with the international cocoa community” among others. “In view of the foregoing, we need to support the laudable drive of the government to turn around this economically high-yielding sector for Nigeria to take its place in the comity of cocoa producing nations. We do not need distractions, disruptions and destructive actions of any disgruntled elements in the society,” Adesina warned the group.
In his contribution, the Director General of Cocoa Research Institute of Nigeria, Prof. Malachy Akorade, pointed out that the grievances against the use of the approved agro-chemicals by the group was done out of sheer mischief hence adequate consultations were made between the manufacturers, importers, regulatory agencies and farmers as well as all other interested persons in the sectors to handle such cases and wondered why the group was bent on writing petitions seeking to discredit the chemicals. Akorade further announced that, in such circumstances, cocoa chemicals are made to undergo scientifically tested procedures from various professional after which the multi locational field results are considered for implementation. “Cocoa chemicals are tested on cocoa trees across our various sub- stations and their results are normally analysed by experts before its use commences in line with approved international guidelines. This is because, we are careful in using chemicals to treat cocoa diseases. We prefer other means,” said Akorade.
Meanwhile, the cocoa transformation agenda team leader, Dr. Peter Aikpokpodion, said since food safety is a fundamental issue in food security, all measures are always taken to ensure that the chemicals used in such circumstances are always very carefully selected in order not to cause damage to the consumer. He waved the claim by the aggrieved group as a baseless argument.
Equally, the National President of Cocoa Farmers Association of Nigeria, Mr. Sayina Riman, expressed happiness at the journey so far in the sub-sector and wants to see more commitment channelled into cocoa transformation agenda, in particular and ATA in general just as he enjoined the ministry to disregard that particular faction of his association.