Nigerian cocoa farmers escape the middle man

The prospects for cocoa farmers in West Africa have not appeared rosy in recent years, what with declining cocoa prices and reports of exploitive labour practices on their properties.

Organisations like the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture (IITA) have been working to assist these farmers, however. Recently, the IITA took another step forward in its efforts to help Nigerian cocoa producers by opening a trade and information centre in Bamikemo, a farming community in the country’s western Ondo state.

The centre, which forms part of the IITA’s Sustainable Tree Crops Project (STCP), is intended to give farmers up-to-date information about cocoa prices so that they can make informed decisions when they sell the beans.

If all goes according to plan, says IITA information manager Taye Babaleye, “the farmers [will] no longer be deceived by middle men”.

Babaleye says the centre will also help producers identify local and international markets for their cocoa, and put them in touch with foreign buyers. In addition, it will help the farmers make contact with banks to that they can borrow funds to expand their operations.

Added Charles Akinola, national coordinator of the STCP in Nigeria: “More money is expected to come into the pockets of the farmers: once again, cocoa production will be rewarding.”

“We expect to replicate what we are doing here in Bamikemo in several other parts of the state and [other] cocoa-producing states in Nigeria,” he says.

Funding for the initiative—which was launched over the weekend of March 20 and 21—is being provided by the United States Agency for International Development, the global chocolate industry and the Ford Foundation, among others.

The STCP has also taken steps to improve the technology and methods of cultivation used by Nigerian cocoa growers.

Chris Okafor, pilot project manager for the STCP, says that since October 2002 farmers’ field schools have been established in three areas of Ondo, where growers learn about pest control, pruning techniques and the nurturing of young plants.
These lessons continue during the entire year-long cropping cycle.

“Through the farmers’ field schools, more than 1 300 farmers have been trained and are expected to share their new skills and knowledge with [their] neighbours,” Okafor explains.

Joseph Okewande, a 67-year-old farmer and trainee at one of the schools, says the STCP’s initiative has helped him considerably.

“We discussed the problems facing cocoa farmers. The trainers tell us how to control pests, what pesticides to use, what quantity to be applied to ensure safety. They also taught us the best way to produce standard cocoa, so that we can get more money for our labour,” he says.

“Since they came here our cocoa has been doing well. We have been selling our produce better than before as we now negotiate directly with exporters and not middlemen.”

A farmers’ union based in Bamikemo has been a key partner of the STCP in its bid to improve cocoa production in Nigeria.

“The Tonikoko Farmers’ Union has been the focal point of our activities in Nigeria, to ... look at how we can train the farmers and how we can more efficiently link them and their produce to the market,” says Stephan Weise, the STCP’s regional programme manager.

With assistance from the West Africa Cocoa Agriculture Project, the delicate issue of using child labour on farms is also discussed with the growers. Tonikoko currently has a membership of more than 1 500 farmers.

Nigeria’s cocoa beans are currently selling for about $1 500 a ton on the international market—against last year’s price of $2 100.

The price of the country’s cocoa has dropped over the past two decades as the quality of the beans declined. This has been ascribed, in part, to the disappearance of cocoa boards, which set standards for the industry.

Production has also fallen from more than 200 000 tons annually to less than 130 000 tons a year.

“A concerted effort needs to be made both in terms of training the farmers to use more efficient technologies in producing cocoa, as well as retraining them in how to produce quality cocoa through appropriate drying methods,” says Weise.

At the regional level, the STCP is also conducting programmes in Cameroon, Ghana, Guinea and Côte d’Ivoire.

Established in 1967 to improve methods of tropical food production, the IITA is based in the western Nigerian city of Ibadan.—IPS

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