Entry: Bill Guyton
I wanted to share with you a recent article, published in the Guardian News on October 12. World Cocoa Foundation is pleased to support the Sutainable Tree Crops Program (STCP) which is referenced several times by the author. The STCP Network in Nigeria, with the leadership of Chris Okafor, is working hand-in-hand with local governments and farmer groups to help improve farm level incomes and farming efficiency.
Sunday, October 12, 2008
Cocoa Farmers In Edo Complete Field Training, Receive Certificates
By Olukayode Oyeleye
A HIGH profile graduation ceremony was held for the first batch of graduates of the cocoa farmers' field school (FFS) in Edo State on Friday. At the elaborate ceremony, held at the Cultural Centre, Benin, a total of 477 graduates were presented for the award of certificates.
Professor Oserheimen Osunbor, the state governor, who gave cash awards to some of the graduates, noted that "the Edo State government has fully embraced the farmers' field school (FFS) programme in order to improve cocoa production in the state."
According to the governor, he state has met all its financial obligations to the National Cocoa Development Committee (NCDC). He appealed, however, to the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and the NCDC to "ensure that Edo State gets its fair share of agricultural inputs for the benefit of our farmers."
"In order to guarantee high quality cocoa production that will meet international standard, the state government has set up a cocoa monitoring committee to ensure this objective," Governor Osunbor said.
He encouraged the "management of the farmers' field school programme to ensure that, in the next few years, all the major cocoa-producing communities in the state have their own farmers' field school.
Mrs. Kehinde Ajao, representing the Agriculture minister, Sayyadi Abba Ruma, read in a speech, that the farmers' field school has been adopted by the NCDC "as its main strategy of training and extending new technologies and innovations to cocoa farmers."
The farmers' field school approach, according to the minister's representative, has also been found to promote the adoption of productivity-enhancing, sustainable, environmentally friendly, socially responsible and cost-effective cocoa production practices among smallholders."
She alluded to the experiences of farmers who have already been involved in the schools as indicating "that the scheme had brought remarkable turn-around in their fortunes and welfare. Through this scheme, farmers have learnt how to handle their harvests in a better way, which resulted in improved quality of cocoa beans as well as increased yields of crops and incomes of farmers."
Friday Idahor, FFS coordinator in Edo State, told The Guardian that "each FFS has two facilitators that we refer to as teachers in conventional schools. They teach these farmers. One of them is an extension officer in the Ministry of Agriculture, and the other, assisting, is a trained cocoa farmer."
"We have undergone long and short-term training on the FFS programme," Idahor disclosed, adding that "the state government has sponsored us to a number of FFS workshops in various places (and) the success we have recorded today is attributable to the governor and his deputy."
Idahor recalled that, "before, the school was dormant. The facilitators and I were trained before 2005, but could not commence the school for obvious reasons. Government order was backed up by necessary support to carry on the operations."
He acknowledged the advantage Edo has enjoyed through the state deputy governor, who he described as the chairman of NCDC sub-committee on training, which supervises the FFS. This is an advantage we have. The present 22 schools are not enough. Our teeming cocoa farmers are yearning for the establishment of FFS in their various committees. In the next phase, we will increase the number of the schools in Edo State.
Mr Idahor emphasised that "the FFS is free and we still give our facilitators allowance to go to these schools in addition to the motorcycles given by the state government." He assured that "there is not going to be any break. It is continuous programme. Same time next year, we should be graduating another set of students."
Chief Iguagbe Stephen from Ukho community in Fugar, Etsako Central local government, who has been in cocoa farming for over 30 years, told The Guardian that, from FFS, he got the knowledge on "where to cultivate cocoa, time to plant the young ones, distance from tree to tree."
He said "we were also taught of the period to use or not to use chemicals and the type of disease that worries cocoa farms."
According to Iguagbe, who said he has up to 14 acres of cocoa farms, "it is also a good method to see that when we can comply with what we are taught by our facilitators, we won't waste money on chemicals."
Evelyn Uwmareogie, from Okopen in Ovia North local government, inherited part of her father's cocoa farm, the size of which she could not estimate. "Every year," she said, "we bought cocoa chemicals, yet the pods still turn black. No improvement. With the FFS, we were taught how to use chemicals on coca, how to ferment the cocoa beans, how to use rafts for drying."
On this year's production, she said, without using chemicals, the production has increased more than before. "We don't want to use chemicals any more." Evelyn estimated that about three cans of a particular chemical, each costing N4,500, was used annually on their farm, before their exposure to FFS. She said all that expense would not be necessary this year. She said that from what she learnt in FFS, even with salt solution, some trees having certain infection have been treated successfully, and such trees bear fruits after treatment. "That is the system we apply on our farm now, and we enjoy it."
Iguagbe added that one thing is still lacking in cocoa production in Edo; "how we can always know the price of cocoa in a season without waving up and down (fluctuation). We don't know (if) the cocoa authorities in marketing section will favour us on accurate pricing so as to avoid problems between buyers and farmers." He said "it will be good" if the government would sustain its present effort in the future. Madam Uwmareogie corroborated Iguagbe's worries, saying "what we need now is how to get the cocoa beans sold at higher prices."
Ovie Ighofose, 39, from Okokpon 1 in Ovia South West local government, started cocoa farming about four years ago. According to him, he was moved when he saw some people making money from the cocoa production business, especially. Realising that he had access to land, Ighofose decided to start and later joined the FFS. He planted his own cocoa at the time he began the business and now some have started fruiting.
"I leant so much with regards to spacing, pruning, to avoid too much shade. I already know now some of the problems I would face with regards to diseases. We have been told that those of us who graduated today might be taken through additional training again later."
He said the participants did not pay for the training which took nine months. "I am sure if I am able to implement this knowledge on the farm, it will yield better income and I will not experience the problems which those who did not have this knowledge face."
Lucky Imasuen, deputy governor, lamented that, although 14 states began the cocoa farmers' field schools, some are still grappling with the payment of their counterpart funding. He was praised as one that is committed to cocoa development, not only in Edo, but also in other cocoa-producing states.
Dr. Chris Okafor, country manager of the Sustainable Tree Crops Programmes, who has been at the forefront of the FFS, warned that the graduates of FFS in Edo should not be seen as those to be employed by the government. He said the farmers would soon be formed into cooperatives to enable them sell their produce.