Agric Minister lauds IITA, partners’ initiative to improve Cocoa yields

By Ibukun Emiola
Dr Mohammad Mahmood, the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, has lauded the initiative of International Institute of Tropical Agricultural (IITA) and its partners, to improve Cocoa yields and reduce deforestation in Nigeria.

Mahmood, represented by Mr Frank Kudia, the Director of Extension in the Ministry, gave the commendation on Thursday at the Annual Cocoa-Soils Forum 2022, in Ibadan.

The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that the project was initiated by IITA, funded by NORAD and other partners.

The theme was: “Looking Back and Moving Forward: Knowledge Gaps to Create  a Sustainable Cocoa Sector.”

The minister appreciated the collaboration of partners in the implementation of the Cocoa-Soil Project in Nigeria.

He said that the approach employed by IITA and its partners using “Research for Development and Participation for Delivery” had accelerated the impacts of the project.

Mahmood said that due to the challenges facing Cocoa production, there was a significant decline in production and foreign earnings

The minister said that the ministry had taken steps to address the situation.

He said the intervention on “Integrated Soils Fertility Management” was timely to complement the efforts of the Federal Government to address the challenges affecting Cocoa production.

“Let me also mention the immeasurable contributions of*** IDH and partners in making available to all stakeholders, especially Cocoa farmers and extension officers, a manual and guide for managing soils for increased productivity and decreased deforestation,” he said.

In his remarks, Mr Daniel Van Gilst, a Senior Adviser at the Department of Climate and Environment, said the project objectives had always been to reach a sustainable Cocoa supply sector.

According to him, this is to reach farmers with increased productivity income by 30 per cent, efficient use of agricultural inputs and rural livelihoods of 90,000 people while avoiding deforestation.

Gilst said that end of the first financial phase had improvements toward objectives of the project.

He said that the project needed to ensure a sustainable Cocoa system where people could live off and not harmful to the environment.

“Of course, there are other challenges, in addition to climate change, which the project needs to adapt to-looming in the horizon.

“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 the Cocoa production negatively.

“There is, therefore, a need to look at alternatives to chemical fertilisers,” the Senior Adviser said.

Also, Dr Patrick Adebola, Executive Director, Cocoa Research Institute of Nigeria (CRIN), Ibadan, said the project’s objective was to solve the problem of declining soil fertility and degradation of Cocoa soil.

“There are a lot of factors contributing to low yield in Cocoa production across West African countries and it’s because most of the trees are old.

“Some are over 40 to 50 years old and, therefore, it is natural for soil fertility to decline.

“In the past, there were lots of projects that focussed on diseases and pests of Cocoa.

“But, the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (NORAD) project is a very good one which looks at the soil, because if the soil is not fertile, there is  no way to get maximum yield,” Adebola said.

In her presentations, Mrs Theresa Ampadu-Boakye, Heads, the Cocoa-Soils Programme’s Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning Unit, IITA, said output of the project for the first phase include, nine newly established and research-managed Core Trials in West and Central Africa, and one each in Indonesia and Ecuador.

“Others are 389 Satellite Trials to evaluate under real farming conditions the effects of good agricultural practices and improved nutrient supply on cocoa bean yield, among others,” she said.

NAN reports that Cocoa-Soils is a global programme led by the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) in collaboration with Wageningen University and Research (WUR), and the Sustainable Trade Initiative (IDH).

Also, the programme benefits from partnership with the national Cocoa Research Institutes of Cameroon (IRAD), Côte d’Ivoire (CNRA), Ghana (CRIG) and Nigeria (CRIN) and other international research centres. (NAN)