Politics

‘Improved agronomic practices, halting deforestation, necessary for increased cocoa yield’

Cocoa soil researchers have identified that improved agronomic practices that aim at improving soil fertility while avoiding deforestation is the way to go in order to scale up cocoa production in Nigeria and other cocoa-producing countries in Africa.

They noted that depletion of soil nutrients over the years and limited knowledge of proper management of cocoa trees by farmers, such as the production of organic fertilisers to augment inorganic ones, has led to the production of fewer cocoa beans. To salvage the situation, cocoa farmers move into forest reserves in search of fertile lands leading to deforestation with no expected change and result.

At the Annual CocoaSoils Forum 2022 which took place at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), Ibadan on Thursday, May 12, 2022, these researchers said the CocoaSoils Programme is focused on developing and disseminating Integrated Soil Fertility Management (ISFM) recommendations to cocoa farmers in Ghana, Cameroon, Cote d’Ivoire and Nigeria to improve the fertility of their farmlands, increase farm yields and avoid deforestation.

In his opening words at the forum, Senior Adviser, Department for Climate and Environment of the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (NORAD), Daniel Van Glist, said the project draws from the lessons learnt in the last four years of the programme while focusing on cocoa sustainability and reduction of harmful environmental practices.

“The project objective is, and has always been, to reach a sustainable cocoa supply sector the farmer with increased productivity and income of cocoa farms by 30 per cent, efficient use of agricultural inputs and improved rural livelihoods (90,000) while avoiding deforestation.

“The work of the project will of course continue to develop as the core trials start delivering more and more data, resulting again in improved practices and possibly, revised policy proposals,” he said.

Glist added that some of the challenges facing cocoa production, including climate change, could affect the production of cocoa if not properly mitigated. “Steady increase of energy prices over time and the recent war in Ukraine has caused fertiliser and other input costs to soar in price. Availability of inputs is also becoming difficult in some countries. This will affect access and consequently will affect cocoa production negatively.

“There is, therefore, a need to look at alternatives to chemical fertilisers. There is a need to look at the production system. Is it sustainable under the present and near-future conditions? Should satellite trials include other/different trials that could assist farmers in financially stressed times?”

In his welcome speech, the Director of Research and Development, IITA for Central Africa and Natural Resources Management Director, CocoaSoils Programme, Benard Vanlauwe, said the forum aimed at charting a course for the future of cocoa and improving production levels for countries.

The Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Dr Mohammed Mahmood, who was represented by the Director of Extension, Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, Frank Satumari Kudla, said cocoa contributes a lot to Nigeria as a source of raw material, foreign exchange earnings, employment creation and revenue generation.

For these reasons, he said the government adopted three major strategies of maintenance of current hectarage by giving support to farmers to increase yield, rehabilitation of over 200,000 hectares using global best practises and expansion by providing improved early-maturing cocoa pods to farmers.

“In pursuit of these strategies, the collaboration of partners in the implementation of the Cocoa Soil Project in Nigeria, Cote d’Ivoire and Cameroon is highly commendable and supportive of our desire to reposition cocoa production in the sub-region,” the Minister said.

The Executive Director, Cocoa Research Institute of Nigeria (CRIN), Patrick Adebola, in his remarks, noted that there was a need to improve cocoa production in Nigeria, which currently has 66 cocoa Satelite trial sites, to meet up and compete with the levels in other cocoa-producing countries.

“The project is looking at the soil of cocoa, how can we solve the problem of the declining soil fertility as well as the degradation of cocoa soils? There are a lot of factors that are contributing to the reduction of the yield of cocoa across West Africa not only in Nigeria but across West Africa. Most of those trees are old, some of them are over 40, 50 years old and therefore, it is natural that you see that the soil fertility will start to decline.

“The project is aimed at helping those farms to ameliorate the declining soil fertility and ensure that the cocoa farms are brought to fruition again.

“In the past, the focus had been on pests and diseases that are contributing to declining yield so there were lots of projects that focused mainly on diseases and pests of cocoa. The CocoaSoils NORAD project is now looking at the soils which are coming at the right time. If the soil is not fertile, there is no way the trees will get their maximum potential yield. That is why this project is very important to Nigeria,” Adebola said.

The CocoaSoils Forum 2022, with the theme, ‘Looking back and moving forward: Closing knowledge gaps to create a sustainable cocoa sector,’ is an annual event that has been held before in Accra, Ghana (2019), Yaounde, Cameroon (2020) and online (2021).

The programme, built on the cardinal pillars of Research for Development (R4D) and Partnership for Development (P4D), is led by IITA with support from NORAD, the Wageningen University and Research (WUR) and the Sustainable Trade Initiative (IDH). It has partnerships with public and private sector investors across various countries.

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