By Ginika Okoye
Abuja – President Muhammadu Buhari has expressed regrets over the neglect of the cocoa sector over the years, saying his administration will work to reposition it and other non-oil export commodities.
Buhari said this at the First International Cocoa Summit organised by the Federal Ministry of Trade and Investment in collaboration with Cocoa Association of Nigeria (CAN) in Abuja on Monday.
The President, represented by Chief Audu Ogbeh, the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, said that the country’s annual production of cocoa declined from 420,000 tonnes in the 60s to 192,000 tonnes in 2015.
He noted that the position of the country had dropped from being the fourth global cocoa producing country to the seventh.
Buhari said that the theme of the conference titled `Cocoa, a strategic Commodity for National Economic Development’, was apt as it was in line with his administration’s agenda to diversify the economy of the country.
He appealed to stakeholders to join hands with the Federal Government to improve the production, packaging and marketing of non-oil export commodities.
“This sector has suffered neglect as a result of over reliance on crude oil.
“Government is working hard to improve the business environment for local and foreign investors as well as encouraging the development of domestic consumption.
“The Federal Government is committed to restoring the agricultural and industrial sector to its prime position and I call on all stakeholders to key into the government policy of promotion of non-oil export as an alternative source of revenue.
“I wish to assure you that the implementation of our reforms of the Ease of Doing Business will be the backbone for the repositioning of the cocoa sub- sector in Nigeria,’’ he said.
In a message, Sen. Bukola Saraki, the President of the Senate, called on state governors to make land available to youth farmers to cultivate cocoa.
Saraki, represented by Sen. Yusuf Abdullahi Yusuf (Taraba Central), assured cocoa farmers that the National Assembly would consider legislation aimed at promoting cocoa production in the country.
In his words, Ogbeh said that Federal Government was planning a relaunch of cocoa production in the South-West part of the country.
The minister, who said that Ondo and Cross River States produced 60 per cent of cocoa in the country, appealed to other states to join in the production to promote non-oil export.
The Minister of Trade and Investment, Dr Okechukwu Enelamah, said the summit would enable stakeholders to brainstorm with a view to achieving economic diversification and maximum return on investments.
The President, Cocoa Association of Nigeria (CAN), Mr Sayina Riman, said that a five year strategic plan would be formulated at the end of the conference to move the sector forward.
“This sector is apt because we will arrive at a document to upscale Nigeria cocoa production.’’
Dr Jean-Marc Anga, the Executive Director, International Cocoa Organisation, said the organisation would assist the country in the implementation of its action plan on cocoa.
Anga said that research and development was a major driving force toward improving cocoa production in Nigeria.
“We will assist Nigeria to develop a plan on cocoa but emphasis should be on quality and value addition,’’ Anga said.
The News Agency of Nigeria reports that the Federal Government at the conference declared cocoa as a national drink for citizens of the country.(NAN)