Nigeria’s 240,000 metric tons per annum cocoa output, which is trailing behind Cote d’Ivoire’s towering 1.3 million metric tons per annum output, is currently threatened, as Ondo state, the country’s leading cocoa producing state, stands to lose between 40 and 50 percent of its midcrop to insect menace.
According to Dow Jones newswires, farmers in Ondo State recently warned that they could lose between 40 and 50 percent of their midcrop to an onslaught of insect pests.
The insects are eating the leaves of cocoa trees and may damage the cocoa pods too. Ondo State accounts for over 40 percent of Nigeria ‘s annual cocoa production.
The warning came as the Ondo State Farmers’ Congress, cocoa chemical dealers, and officials of the Ondo State Ministry of Agriculture prepare to meet in Akure, the state capital, to discuss the problem and decide on the right type of chemicals with which to combat the insects - mealy bug and cankerworm.
Joshua Oyedele, president of the congress, said farmers have reported insect attacks, and that their information indicates that the attacks are widespread in the state.
A senior official at the state-run Tree Crops Unit, which oversees cocoa development said the insect attacks would reduce cocoa pod production in the state if they were not quickly checked.
He said some farmers could lose as much as 50 percent of their cocoa yields if the right chemicals were not applied, and in good time, to combat the menace.
“The tiny insects have eaten nearly all the leaves on cocoa trees in my farm. I will lose at least half of the midcrop cocoa that I should have harvested, if the insect problem is not checked,” Joseph Nwuzor, a farmer near Idanre, Ondo State , said.
Harvesting of the midcrop cocoa is underway in the state and is expected to end in August.
The farmer said the insect attack was first noticed in Idanre, the main cocoa-producing area of Ondo State , at the beginning of the month, but that the insects were now widespread in the state.
Farmers fear that the insects will eat cocoa pods after stripping the trees of leaves.
“I don’t see how my cocoa pods can develop when the trees carrying them have no leaves. The pods won’t get food (nutrition) from the trees again and they will die. I have never seen such an insect attack before,” Nwuzor told Dow Jones.
Meanwhile, reports have it that the insect attack is spreading. Farmers in Osun State , another key Nigerian cocoa producing state, have warned that production there could fall by between 30 and 40 percent, if the insect attack was not checked.
Yemi Omoyeni, a trader in Ile-Ife, an important cocoa-growing and marketing center in Osun State, said several cocoa farms were currently under attack by the insects, and “a lot of pods have been eaten and destroyed.” Osun is the second largest cocoa-producer in the South West and is adjacent to Ondo State , Nigeria ‘s biggest cocoa producer. Omoyeni said farmers were spraying their cocoa trees with chemicals and insecticides but their efforts haven’t totally succeeded. The South West accounts for 70 percent of cocoa produced in Nigeria .
“A lot of the insects are still on the farms damaging midcrop pods that should have been harvested and put on the market for sale,” a farmer in Ile-Ife said.
Harvesting of the midcrop began in Osun and other South West states in March, but a dry spell has hampered development of the crop. Some rains have been seen in the region of recent, raising hopes that the crop’s production could rise.
Farmers in Ondo State have begun spraying their crops in an effort to destroy insects that could halve the midcrop cocoa harvest, a farmers’ leader said.
The state government said last week that it would provide free of charge, chemicals and insecticides to spray cocoa farms to try to combat the insect attack.
“The chemicals, insecticides and spraying pumps are already with us, we have started the spraying of cocoa trees in Akure, then we go on to Idanre until we cover all the cocoa farms in Ondo State,” Joshua Oyedele, president of the Ondo State Farmers’ Congress, said.
Oyedele said the state government directed cocoa farmers to test if the chemicals and insecticides work and kill the insects, and asked the farmers’ congress to report back to it with the results achieved in the field. “We farmers are ready to go to our farms and test the chemicals and report back to the government,” Oyedele said.
He added that several farmers had telephoned him from across the state to report the appearance of the insects on their farms and the damage being done to their cocoa trees and pods.
“Farmers are worried that the insects will destroy all their midcrop cocoa pods leaving them without income from the crop this year,” he said.
The harvest began in March and runs until August.
Exports of cocoa products from Nigeria , the fourth-largest producer of the beans, rose 47 percent to $822.8 million in 2010, according to Olakunle Akingbola, business development manager of Cobalt International Services, an inspection company. This represents about 35 percent of the $2.32 billion earnings from non-oil exports in 2010 for Nigeria . Cobalt International Services inspects all Nigerian non-oil products at the ports before export.
Cocoa is Nigeria ’s second-biggest foreign-exchange earner after crude oil. The Ivory Coast , Ghana and Indonesia produce more cocoa than Nigeria , according to the International Cocoa Organisation.