Ondo State Governor, Arakunrin Oluwarotimi Akeredolu SAN, has said the Cocoa Rebirth Initiative of his administration was gradually and consistently addressing the production and distribution of improved cocoa varieties with early maturity of between 18 and 24 months aimed at restoring the dwindling fortunes of the Nigerian Cocoa economy .

Governor Akeredolu made this known at the distribution of hybrid Cocoa and Cashew seedlings to Ondo State farmers, held at the Federal College of Agriculture, FECA, in Akure.

Arakunrin Akeredolu informed that the improved varieties which are high in yield production and tolerant to harsh weather conditions were produced from the five seed gardens in the state.

He said the cocoa seedlings distribution exercise was a prelude to the big event which would attract all major actors in the cocoa value chain to a roundtable with a view to positively proffer workable solutions to the retrogressing fortunes of Cocoa.

“I wish to also emphasise that the good quality of our cocoa seedlings brought about the partnership of the State with the Federal Government for the distribution of hybrid cocoa pods to all the Cocoa Producing States in the country.

“Ondo State as an agrarian state produces virtually all food and tree crops available in Nigeria. As a matter of fact, we do not just produce, but occupy the number one position in the production of cassava, plantain and, most importantly, cocoa.

“As you are aware, cocoa is Nigeria number one cash crop and the second largest foreign exchange earner after petroleum. Although, the country recently slipped from a global 4th position to 7th position, with an annual production of 190,000 metric Tons..

“Ondo State, at the same time, produces 80,000 metric tonnes (42%) to maintain its leadership position amongst the nation’s Cocoa Producing States”, he stated.

He added that five of the ten functional cocoa factories and all the development agencies working on Cocoa across the country are based in Ondo State, saying the state was home to the first 100% cocoa powder beverage, the Oluji Pure Cocoa Powder.

The governor further said that his administration has embarked on the rehabilitation of old and moribund cocoa farms while also venturing into new plantation development and a good example was the resolve to establish the two thousand hectares model cocoa farm at Ijugbere Camp, Ilale via Owo.

“In addition to the distribution of hybrid cocoa seedlings which is taking place, twenty-five thousand stands of Brazilian cashew seedlings are also going to be distributed to our cashew farmers to enhance the quality and total tonnage production of cashew in Ondo State.

“We are embarking on massive training of our cocoa farmers in modern techniques and principles of cocoa production coupled with the use of modern fermentation and sun drying equipment.

“We encourage our farmers to engage in the cultivation of cashew farms because of its high yielding productivity value.

Ondo State is not only mindful of increased output in quantity but also in quality. We have produced premium cocoa beans at the Oda Cocoa Farm which have been used in producing the award-winning 70% Oda Single Estate Chocolate Bars.

“Hence, our venture into chocolate production at the Sunshine Chocolate Factory, Alade-Idanre, which this administration is currently rejigging in capacity and operational mode”, he stated.

Governor Akeredolu used the occasion to state the resolve of his administration to reposition the Akure Commodity Exchange Ltd in order to make it purposeful driven to enable it begin online marketing of cocoa beans without further delay, adding that cocoa and chocolate would be incorporated into the National School Feeding Programme.

“The development of the Cocoa Value Chain is key to the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari and hence all hands must be on deck towards the realization of the goals.

“There is no gainsaying the fact that cocoa can generate millions of employment and as well generate millions of dollars in foreign exchange, especially now that crude oil is facing a bleak future.

“It is also worthy to mention that poor access roads, lack of drinkable water, poor accommodation, poor electricity, lack of telephone and internet services, among others, are attributable to why many of our youths are not showing interest in farming.

“Our government intends to resolve these problems at our new 2000Ha Model Cocoa Farm in Ijugbere which would endear our youths to the farmstead and thus curb the rural-urban drift.

“The two farms will need special intervention of over a billion naira for its establishment, rehabilitation and provision of infrastructure to meet the modern global standard. We are trying our best within the limited resources, but your kind assistance at repositioning the farm will go a long way”, he said.

In his welcome address, the Honourable Commissioner for Agriculture, Otunba Gboyega Adefarati said the gesture by the State Government would help the state to sustain its enviable position as leader in Cocoa Production in Nigeria.

“It is against this background, that the State Government embarked on the raising of hybrid Cocoa seedlings out of which 200,000 seedlings and 10,000 Cashew seedlings would be distributed free of charge to our farmers today.

“This would further assist farmers in rehabilitation and replanting of their various plantations in the State which would ultimately translate to additional 200 Metric Tons of Cocoa beans in the state.

“It is hoped that these efforts will sustain the leadership position of the state among the nation’s Cocoa Producing States in Nigeria and it is our desire, that other tree crops like Oil Palm, Rubber, Kolanut and Coconut witness similar development”, he said.

Also the Senior Special Assistant,SSA, to the Governor on Agric and Agribusiness, Pastor Akin Olotu while describing the move as one of the State Government’s strategies to give cocoa a new lease of life, reiterated the urgent need of cocoa revival, saying oil wealth is fading while the real wealth lies in Agriculture.

Pastor Olotu who hinted that no amount of maize or volume of livestock Nigeria can produce that would make it compete favorably with Europe and America in the labour market,said Nigeria’s area of strength is largely in tree crops which cocoa is number one, hence the need to fully develop it across the value chain.

“Not just production, but processing too. If you look at the global Cocoa economy, we discovered that those that are processing are making more money are creating more jobs than those that are planting.

“But we have the advantage, we can plant, process and can also export and that is the target of the Akeredolu-led administration.

“We want Ondo State to be the face of cocoa, not only in Nigeria, but in Africa. Next year, it would be a minimum of one million seedlings that would be planted as we are targeting 5000 modern cocoa farmers that would be producing cocoa of premium quality”, he assured.

President, Federation of Agric Commodity Association of Nigeria (FACAN) and Chairman, Board of Council, Cocoa Association of Nigeria, Dr Victor Iyamah decried the retrogression in Cocoa production which he said would have served as a means of job opportunities for the teeming unemployed youths in the agric sector.

“Before, we are used to producing 401,000 tons, Ghana producing 410,000 tons and Coted’Ivoire was on 381,000 tons of Cocoa.

“Currently, Coted’Ivoire with about 26 million people produces 2.1 million tons, Ghana with 24 million population produces 1 million tons, while Nigeria that has about 180 million people is producing 240,000 tons of Cocoa”, he lamented.

He charged governments at all levels to endeavour to strive towards achieving, if not 1 million tons, but at least, 800 tons with a view to reclaiming its position as one of the leading cocoa producers in Africa.

While commending Governor Akeredolu for distributing the seedlings free of charge, he attributed the reigning peace in cocoa producing areas like Ondo State to its efforts at ensuring that youths are gainfully employed along the value chain.

Others who spoke at the event include the Provost, Federal College of Agriculture,FECA, Dr Adeola Odedina and President, Sunshine Cocoa Association, Engr Julius Ogundare who described the governor’s initiative as salutary and unprecedented.

They charged the farmers to take advantage of the highly maturing and disease-resistant Cocoa and Cashew seedlings to create wealth and assist in increasing the fortune of the dwindling Cocoa production in the state.

At the ceremony were; Deputy Governor, Hon Agboola Ajayi, Speaker, Ondo state House of Assembly, Rt Hon David Oleyeloogun, members of the State Executive Council the Deji of Akure, Oba Aladetoyinbo Ogunlade Aladelusi among others.