Cocoa: A Strategic Commodity for National Economic Development – Adejola Adeyemi Crown

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Reading time: 5 Minutes

 

The Cocoa (Cacao) tree is native to the Americas. It originated in Central America and parts of Mexico. More than 5,000 years ago, it was consumed by pre-Columbian cultures along the Yucatán, including the Mayans, and as far back as Olmeca civilization in spiritual ceremonies. It also grows in the foothills of the Andes in the Amazon and Orinoco basins of South America, in Colombia and Venezuela. Wild cacao still grows there. Its range may have been larger in the past; evidence of its wild range may be obscured by cultivation of the tree in these areas long before the Spanish arrived.

Meanwhile, new chemical analysis of residue extracted from pottery excavated at an archaeological site at Puerto Escondido, in Honduras, indicates that cocoa products were first consumed there sometime between 1500 and 1400 BC. Evidence also indicates that, long before the flavour of the cocoa seed (or bean) became popular, the sweet pulp of the chocolate fruit, used in making a fermented (5% alcohol) beverage, first drew attention to the plant in the Americas. The cocoa bean was a common currency throughout Mesoamerica before the Spanish conquest.

Cocoa trees grow in a limited geographical zone, of about 20° to the north and south of the Equator. Nearly 70% of the world crop today is grown in West Africa. The cocoa plant was first given its botanical name by Swedish natural scientist Carl Linnaeus in his original classification of the plant kingdom, where he called it Theobroma (“food of the gods”) cacao.

Cocoa was an important commodity in pre-Columbian Mesoamerica. A Spanish soldier who was part of the conquest of Mexico by Hernán Cortés tells that when Moctezuma II, emperor of the Aztecs, dined, he took no other beverage than chocolate, served in a golden goblet. Flavoured with vanilla or other spices, his chocolate was whipped into a froth that dissolved in the mouth. No fewer than 60 portions each day reportedly may have been consumed by Moctezuma II, and 2,000 more by the nobles of his court.

Chocolate was introduced to Europe by the Spaniards, and became a popular beverage by the mid-17th century. Spaniards also introduced the cocoa tree into the West Indies and the Philippines. It was also introduced into the rest of Asia and into West Africa by Europeans. In the Gold Coast, modern Ghana, cocoa was introduced by an African, Tetteh Quarshie.

Cocoa production is important to the economy of Nigeria. Cocoa is the leading agricultural export of the country and Nigeria is currently the world’s fourth largest producer of Cocoa, after Ivory Coast, Indonesia and Ghana, and the third largest exporter, after Ivory Coast and Ghana. The crop was a major foreign exchange earner for Nigeria in the 1950s and 1960s and in 1970 the country was the second largest producer in the world but following investments in the oil sector in the 1970s and 1980s, Nigeria’s share of world output declined. In 2010, cocoa production accounted for only 0.3% of agricultural GDP. Average cocoa beans production in Nigeria between 2000 and 2010 was 389,272 tonnes per year rising from 170,000 tonnes produced in 1999.

The earliest cocoa farms in Nigeria were in Bonny and Calabar in the 1870s but the area proved not suitable for cultivation. In 1880, a cocoa farm was established in Lagos and later, a few more farms were established in Agege and Ota. From the farms in Agege and Ota information disseminated to the Yoruba hinterland about cocoa farming, thereafter, planting of the tree expanded in Western Nigeria. Farmers in Ibadan and Egba land began experimenting the planting of cocoa in uncultivated forests in 1890 and those in Ilesha started around 1896. The planting of cocoa later spread to Okeigbo and Ondo Town both in Ondo State, Ife and Gbongan in Osun State and also in Ekiti land. The major states that produce cocoa are Ondo, Cross River, Ogun, Akwa Ibom, Edo, Ekiti, Delta, Osun and Oyo.

Before 1950, there were two main varieties of cocoa planted in Nigeria. The major one was Amelonado cacao which was imported from the upper Amazon river Basin in Brazil. The second was a heterogeneous strain from Trinidad. The Amelonado pods are green but turning yellow when ripe but the Trinidad variety is red.

Cocoa flourishes in areas that are not more than 20 degrees north or south of the equator. The trees respond well in regions with high temperature and distributed rainfall. In Nigeria, the cocoa tree is grown from seedlings which are raised in nurseries, when the seedlings reach a height of 3cm they are transplanted at a distance of 3 to 4 meters. The cultivation of cocoa is done by many small scale farmers on farmlands of around two hectares while export is dominated by a few firms.

Historically, Nigeria’s cocoa production was marketed through a monopsony by marketing boards created by the government. In the 1980s the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund advised Nigeria to liberalize the sector because the marketing boards were ineffective. In 1986, Nigeria dissolved the marketing boards and liberalized cocoa marketing and trade. However, trade has not yielded the anticipated results, in addition, aging trees and farms, low yields, inconsistent production patterns, disease incidence, pest attack and little agricultural mechanization contributed to a stagnant cocoa industry. Currently, farmers sell their products indirectly through a cooperative or a licensed buying agent who in turn sell it to exporting firms.

Cocoa farming has really contributed to greatly to most of the agricultural sectors in Nigeria as we all know; agriculture has done a lot in the time of old even when crude oil was not the major source of revenue in Nigeria.

Agriculture has provided food for almost the entire population of Nigeria, is it employment? Farmers that operates on a larger scale tends to employ the services of more labourers to carry out different farming activities on their farmland.

Cocoa farming is a very vital part of agriculture as it provides food for the entire population in Nigeria therefore reducing hunger to its minimal rate, raw materials needed by the industries are equally provided and it also serve as a source of foreign exchange in Nigeria.

Cocoa has really contributed grossly to the economic development of Nigeria as it served as the major source of income and economic development during the 50s, the value of Nigeria currency was very much appreciated and the standard of living was very much manageable. In Nigeria of today, virtually everybody is now shying away from agriculture as regards the high rate of power, energy and time it consumes into a much faster and less strenuous and faster money spinning business with full focus on the oil sector that has been plagued with sharp practices, which has wrecked unimaginable havoc on the economy of the nation.

Nigeria is blessed with varieties of agricultural products that if fully tapped could take the country out of its economic woes. Given its ever increasing global demand and high prospects in foreign exchange earnings, the upscale of cultivation, processing and exporting of cocoa could just be the major alternative foreign exchange earner for Nigeria. Just before the attention was shifted to oil, cocoa farmers were considered as the wealthiest in time past because of the value of the produce and the huge demand for it all over the country and beyond.

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