The cocoa bean is the seed of the cocoa tree (theobroma cacao), a tropical plant indigenous to the equatorial regions of the Americas. Its cultivation dates more than 3,000 years ago and since then cocoa production and processing have spread globally.
Today, cocoa is processed into a variety of products such as cocoa or chocolate liquor, cocoa butter and cocoa powder. These products are now increasingly used in pharmaceuticals, bakery, food and beverages, nutraceuticals and cosmetics and toiletries industries.
Speaking exclusively to Science Nigeria, a nutrition expert, Tessy Okpala, said the nutritive value and the fact that it contains polyphenols (a naturally occurring antioxidant in cocoa) is a major factor that has enhanced its general acceptance.
“Polyphenols have numerous health benefits among which include: reduced inflammation, blood pressure control and improved cholesterol and blood sugar levels. Polyphenols reduce the risk of neuro-degenerative diseases. Cocoa also contains flavanols which have potent antioxidants and anti-inflammatory effects. Flavonoids improve nitric oxide levels, leading to lower blood pressure and reduce the formation of low-density lipoprotein which is the main cause of cholesterol-related issues.
“They have a blood-thinning effect similar to aspirin and are linked to a lower risk of heart attack, heart failure and stroke. Some studies have shown that a higher intake of flavanols can result in a lower risk of ‘type 2’ diabetes. Apart from the cancer protection properties, theobromine and theophylline contents of cocoa also reduce the incidence of asthma,” she said.
In Nigeria, cocoa production grew from 165,000 tonnes between 1999 and 2000 to 250,000 tonnes between 2013 and 2014, mainly as a result of high grower prices and, to a limited extent, to the government support as outlined in the Cocoa Transformation Action Plan of 2015. The total harvested area amounts to 640,000 ha and the average yield is about 400 kg per ha. Yield improvement is constrained by the age of the farmer’s proper management, low farm input, infrastructure, extension services, etc. Most importantly, these include inadequate control of cocoa swollen shoot virus disease and the phytophthora pod rot (PPR) or black pod disease.Farmers’ inadequate access to loans and the fact that many cocoa fields are old are other factors that bedevil cocoa farming.
Similarly, Prof. Kayode Ogunsanwo of the Department of Forestry, University of Ibadan, said that in Nigeria, the provision of improved planting materials is one of the key elements of government-supported replanting schemes.
He noted that the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development distributed 300,000 hybrid cocoa seedlings to farmers and the agricultural development programmes in the southwest, south-south, north-central and south-eastern geopolitical zones. Likewise, the Cocoa Research Institute of Nigeria (CRIN) has produced high-yielding varieties termed series ‘TC1-8’. Although these are very high-yielding and early-bearing seeds, Nigeria still struggles with about 250,000 to 300,000 tonnes compared to the 2,000,000 tonnes produced by Cote d’Ivoire.
According to him, for Nigeria to increase production, the tonnage per hectare must increase to at least 1000 to 1500kgs from the present 400 to 500 kg/ha in addition to bringing back the commodity boards. Also, there is a need for rehabilitation and replanting of cocoa fields, as most cocoa trees are between 30 and 40 years old.
“Currently, cocoa beans are produced in tropical zones around the Equator. About 70 per cent of the world’s cocoa beans come from four West African countries. In these countries, cocoa is planted on more than six million hectares are planted with cocoa. Most farmers are smallholders who traditionally planted their cocoa at random under thinned forest shade. At present Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana are the largest producers, closely followed by Nigeria and Cameroon. The average yields in these countries, however, remain low because many farms are old and need replanting. Presently, portions of forests available for the expansion of cocoa production is thinning out, making it imperative that further increase in production has to come from an increase in yield of the existing mature trees and the replanting of old unproductive cocoa farms,” he said.
The varsity don added that the International Cocoa Organization (ICCO) forecasts a 10 per cent increase in global cocoa production and a 25 per cent increase in the price of cocoa over the next decade. Based on this forecast, the total cocoa production will be about 4,700,000 tonnes between 2022 and 2023.
He maintained that, if Nigeria hopes to be a part of the envisaged increment, she must maintain a 10 per cent increase in production over the next decade, which has to come from a higher yield per hectare of cocoa farms. Likewise, to enhance foreign exchange generation, there is the need for increased secondary processing of cocoa beans.
“Presently, the role of cocoa certification in raising farmers’ income and promoting ecologically sound cultivation methods is yet to be fully appreciated and implemented in Nigeria and certification projects presently have little impact. This will have to be adequately addressed as, without doubt, the certification initiatives will become very important in years to come, given global outcry against deforestation and as other countries with the technical capabilities such as China which exported 500kg of cocoa beans in October 2020, are becoming interested in cocoa production.
“Also, several international organizations – like the Swiss Platform for Sustainable Cocoa (SWISSCO) and the German Initiative on Sustainable Cocoa (GISCO) – are collaborating to support sustainable cocoa production globally. The major objectives of these partnerships are to address issues of living income, deforestation and supply chain transparency,” he added.
According to the report published by Allied Market Research, the global cocoa market garnered $12.87 billion in 2019 and is estimated to generate $15.50 billion by 2027. The increase in demand for chocolates, especially in Europe and North America, have fueled the growth of the global cocoa market. Although the global chocolate industry is valued at over $150bn, West Africa which accounts for about 70 per cent of the cocoa beans supply, receives less than $6bn (4 per cent) of the total market, because 80 per cent of cocoa market revenue is generated at the secondary processing stage which is dominated by Europeans and Asians. Unsurprisingly, it is an area with massive potential and calls for African cocoa bean producers to invest in it.
The director-general, Raw Materials Research and Development Council (RMRDC), Prof. Hussaini Ibrahim, told Science Nigeria that the council has been at the forefront of promoting cocoa processing in Nigeria.
According to him, as early as the 90s, after a comprehensive nationwide survey on commodities production and processing in Nigeria, the need for promoting cocoa processing in Nigeria for enhanced foreign exchange generation was realised.
As a result of this and to promote value addition to the large volume of cocoa beans produced in Nigeria, Ibrahim said the council, in collaboration with the Ondo State government, established a cocoa processing plant at Alade-Idanre, Ondo.
The RMRDC boss said the plant pioneered cocoa processing locally and has catalyzed the establishment of numerous cocoa-processing plants in the country. Among these are the Ile-Oluji Cocoa Processing Company, Olam Cooperative Cocoa Industry Akure, Stanmark Cocoa Industry, Ondo and Agro Traders, Akure.
“The Ondo State government, the joint venture partner, has bought council’s equity in the project and has taken full control of the plant. Likewise, to further exploit the benefits of the cocoa value chain, the council supported IMIT Nigeria Limited, a small-scale industry in chocolate production, with a tempering machine. This has significantly increased the installed capacity of the factory for different chocolate brands. Consequently, the company has pioneered the production of dark, white and milk chocolate brands in Nigeria,” he said.
Ibrahim added that research and development studies carried out by RMRDC, in collaboration with CRIN and other research institutes have shown that the pod, which makes up 60 per cent of the cocoa fruit, have numerous industrial applications.
“The pod can be used in the production of animal feeds, black soap, pectins for food and pharmaceutical industries and for making fertilizer. Studies have shown that cocoa pods can effectively be used to promote nutrient composts of acceptable quality by substituting mineral fertilizer requirements. It contains 1.63 per cent potassium which makes it useable as raw material for fertilizer and chemical production. In addition, the growing needs of organically made soaps have made cocoa pods an essential commodity in skincare products,” he stated.
Given numerous potentials of the cocoa value chain in promoting virile industrial development locally, Ibrahim said the RMRDC has hosted several investment workshops on cocoa beans and pods processing.
“Presently, the council is discussing with investors about establishing various value-added products to enhance productivity and profitability of the cocoa sector in Nigeria, to promote its rebirth for sustainable industrial development. It is our considered opinion that with time, Nigeria will be a country to reckon with in secondary cocoa products’ export globally. Apart from this, the sector would be able to contribute significantly to poverty alleviation and employment generation potentials of Nigerians,” he added.