By Sunday Okobi
Governor Ben Ayade is silently repositioning Cross River State to wean it off federal transfers with his recent inauguration of a cocoa processing mill in Ikom.
As the future of oil economy is increasingly becoming bleak, foresighted leaders are readjusting their thinking caps, devising strategies and charting a new roadmap to economic liberation.
One of such leaders is Cross River State governor, Senator Ben Ayade. Right from the period of his ascension to power, Ayade was clear about the direction he was headed. Buffeted on all fronts by the stark realities of surviving as a state, but realising also that Cross River has potential in agro-allied resources, refocusing on areas of comparative advantage was key to navigating the state out of the woods.
One of such windows identified by the governor was cocoa. Ranked as fourth in the global output of cocoa production, Cross River could hardly be said to have significantly chalked up this premium position to her advantage until Ayade shot onto the scene with the right compass to appropriately redirect the state to assume her rightful status among the cocoa hall of famers.
It is interesting to know that Nigeria, courtesy of Cross River State, is the fourth largest producer and the third largest exporter of cocoa in the world, perhaps the reason why the governor felt angry, immediately after his inauguration that the state has not been able to stake her claim among the league of global cocoa players.
Like a zestful football coach with the right temperament, Ayade had to contemplate an ultramodern cocoa processing mill in the state, if anything, to right the wrong of supposed past underperformance. According to Wikipedia, aside the fact that Nigeria is rated as the fourth largest producer of cocoa in the world and the third largest exporter, the quality of her cocoa is, globally, considered the best because its cocoa bean weighs more when compared with others.
However, about 40 per cent of the cocoa produced in Nigeria is from Cross River State, while the remaining 60 per cent are shared among Ondo, Abia, Lagos, Ogun, Akwa Ibom, Delta, Ekiti, Oyo and Edo states. According to global rating, Cote d’Ivoire is the largest producer of cocoa, followed by Ghana as second; Indonesia, third and, Nigeria, the fourth: in 2016/2017 crop year, Cote d’Ivoire, in West Africa, produced 1.7 million metric tons of cocoa beans, followed by Ghana with approximately 858, 720 metric tons of cocoa with Indonesia, producing approximately 656, 817 and then Nigeria, the fourth produced 236, 521 metric tons.
The backward linkage of confectionery industries to factories of semi-finished products of cocoa makes its global demand very high which accounts for reasonable percentage of the GDP of those frontier African economies that produce cocoa in large quantities. In 2016, Cote d’Ivoire produced 1, 472 million metric tons of cocoa beans which accounted for 17 percent of her GDP which is why locals in Cross River State see cocoa investment as a similitude of oil business.
Instructively, cocoa goes through three stages before it gets to the finished product: from harvesting, it is processed into roasted cocoa beans; from roasted cocoa beans, it is processed into cocoa powder, cocoa liquor or mass, cocoa nib, cocoa paste before they are finally lifted by confectionary industries to produce chocolate and other derivative beverages etc.
Given this corollary therefore, setting up a cocoa processing plant creates multi-level-value-chain that stimulates employment, stabilises wages and open the floodgates of prosperity which is believed to be the reason why Ayade decided to establish the ultra-modern Cocoa industry in Ikom, known to be the largest producer of cocoa in the country.
Located in Yala Nkum in Ikom Local Government Area of the state, one of the conventional considerations that informed the sitting of industry is nearness to source of raw materials. The facility is designed with the capacity to crush 30,000 metric tons of roasted cocoa beans a year. According to Mr. Oscar Ofuka, Special Adviser to the governor on Cocoa Development, “the cocoa factory in Ikom is first of its kind and one of the best in Africa. It has the capacity to crush about 30,000 metric tons of cocoa beans, a year.”
Continuing, Ofuka added that “on completion, we are expected to produce chocolate bars, cocoa powder, cocoa flakes, cocoa butter, cocoa wine, and other bye-products of cocoa. It is also expected to create job opportunities for the teeming youth in the area. What His Excellency actually wants to do in Cross River, this time around, is to add value to cocoa. Before this time, cocoa was being produced and the farmers didn’t know the value. If you ask an average farmer what they use cocoa for, he or she would not be able to tell you. He or she would think it is something that is produced for export, but we are going to now add value to cocoa and begin to produce those products we can consume locally and at the end of it, we are looking at consuming about 70 per cent of the cocoa products and export the remaining 30 per cent.”
On the state of readiness of the plant, the Special Adviser also disclosed that “the equipment have been paid for and any moment from now, the containers will arrive. The work is 70 per cent completed and when it comes on stream, it will give a boost to cocoa production in Cross River State.”
According to him, the “ultramodern cocoa processing mill will serve as an intermediary between local producers or farmers and foreign off-takers or global industries of finished products which has the potential to enhance proper integration of Cross River State into global commercial network. As a result of the forward linkage of farmers to the factory and the backward linkage of confectionary industries to the factory, Ikom Cocoa Mill is expected to be one of the most dynamic and viable agro-allied industries in Nigeria.”
The facility which has the capacity of crushing 30,000 metric tons of cocoa beans per annum will no doubt impose huge demand on the production of cocoa and consequently increase the population of cocoa farmers in the state. Consequently, the Cross River State Government, through the Department of Cocoa Development, has developed a trajectory plan of increasing production by acquiring more hectares of land across the 18 local governments of the state, just like the 3,800 hectares acquired from Aki Osoba in Akamkpa to plant more cocoa.
About five million seedlings of cocoa have been raised and transplanted with the intention of raising more.
The spinoff from the mill is the expected attendant employment opportunities for the teeming youths of the state which will culminate in reduced pressure of expectation on public and civil service for employment. And because, it will engage many youths and put money in more hands, the horror of social tension and other vices, which are not functions of genetic peculiarity, but of unemployment and poverty, are expected to be drastically reduced leading further to enhanced systemic stability.
With the expected revenue the state from the plant, it is expected to shield the state from both international and national revenue shocks known as recession.
The setting up of the Ikom cocoa processing mill is no doubt intellect at work, especially in a recess economy such as ours, where money has become a ghost response to the demanding need of infrastructure and industrialisation.
It is also true that when a man truly puts his soul above his problems, his body will naturally follow to realise his vision and turn his dreams to reality. In Cross River, it is now a documented fact that Ayade has since put his soul above the crushing problems of the state and thereby allowing his body to follow, the result of which is birthing the Ikom ultramodern cocoa processing mill.