In an answer to repeated calls for the diversification of Nigerian economy from its over dependent on oil, the government at all levels is exploring many opportunities in the agriculture sector which before now was the mainstay of the nation’s economy.
Considering the policy thrust of Governor Udom Emmanuel’s administration which is on industrialization, wealth and job creation, the government has developed deep passion in agriculture with a view of producing both raw materials for the industries, wealth for farmers and jobs for the people.
To this end, the state government in partnership with John Kuffor Foundation, Ghana last week, flagged off pruning, under brushing, fumigation and shade management towards enhancing cocoa production in the state.
Although cocoa tree is native to the Americans, it is believed that the Europeans introduced it to West Indies, Philippines, Asia and West Africa. Cocoa trees grow in hot, rainy tropical areas within 20* of latitude and it takes three to five years to yield crop with hybrid varieties providing more crops and can be productive for twenty five years or above.
The many benefits of cocoa make it a prized commodity in the world. Unarguably, the fact that chocolate, a finished product of cocoa, features prominently on most dining tables makes it a big source of revenue for both farmers and nation involved in the production chain.
However, Nigeria over dependent on crude oil at the expense of agriculture has in recent times, spelt doom for her economy. Today, the country is making a bold effort at entrenching an agriculture based economy. Cocoa cultivation is one of the key areas government is giving attention.
The good news is that cocoa can be cultivated in 21 out of the 31 local government areas of Akwa Ibom State which the chairman, John Kuffor Foundation, Ghana, Dr. Abraham Odoom describes as a green gold in that our soil is naturally fertile for the cultivation of cocoa.
The partnership with the Ghanaian Foundation is to train youths in the management of large scale cultivation of cocoa. As captured in the remarks of DrOdoom during the flag-off ceremony in Ikono Local Government Area, the partnership with the state government will involve the grouping of about 450 youths into cooperative societies that will be involved in land, tree and environment management. This is important especially as maintenance, variety of cocoa tree and weather are important factors in good cocoa yield.
For instance, pruning exercise alone is expected to improve on the yields of cocoa from the present 300kg/hectares to 600kg/hectares between 2016-2017; from 600kg to 900kg/hectares between 2017-2018; from 900kg/hectares to 1000kg/hectares between 2018-2019; and from 1000kg/hectares to 1500kg/hectares between 2019-2020.
The effort of Governor Udom Emmanuel’s administration to massively invest in agriculture vis-a-vis cocoa, is highly commendable. Apart from creating jobs for youths who are ready to take to agriculture, making cocoa a major export commodity from the Akwa Ibom Shore line will yield more revenue for the state in the face of dwindling oil revenue.
As stated by the state deputy governor Mr. Moses Ekpo, who is also the chairman, Akwa Ibom State Cocoa Development Committee, the move to invest in the cultivation of cocoa in the state is in tandem with the industrialization policy of the present administration.
This laudable initiative by the state government, will no doubt, make crude oil earning accruable to the state an additional revenue source, thereby ensuring a rapid pace in the development of the state.
To achieve this dream, communities should support government by donating lands lying waste in their respective domain for the cultivation of cocoa. This is why the decision of INI people to set aside additional hectares of land for the cultivation of this important economic tree is highly commendable as noted by the Governor during the flag off in the area.
The government should also consider the wise counsel of the Chairman, Cocoa Farmers Association in Akwa Ibom State, Chief Michael AkpanUdo that government should create a conducive environment for the return of Akwa Ibom people who are presently working in cocoa plantations outside the state so as to boost the crop’s production in the state.
It is advisable for the State government to provide soft loans for cocoa farmers, provide them with equipment for harvesting and processing of cocoa as well as assist farmers sell the produce at acceptable international price.
This bold move by the administration of Governor Udom Emmanuel to transform the state’s economy has equally set in motion, machinery for wealth and job creation which are some of the cardinal points in his five point agenda for an economic independent and prosperous Akwa
It is hoped that more people will come to embrace the government’s initiative aimed at diversifying our economy and creating wealth for the people.