Worried by the myriads of problems facing their operations, indigenous cocoa manufacturers has urged the Federal Government to reduce the cost of borrowing in Nigeria, and embark on massive rural infrastructure development to enhance productivity in the country.
Indeed, the stakeholders who spoke in an interview with The Guardian, argued that the cocoa industry in Nigeria has remained the most neglected sector of the economy, despite its position as one of the most viable agro-allied industries in the world.
Production of sustainable cocoa significantly impacts the economies of many developing countries and provides livelihood for an estimated 40 to 50 million people globally.
The product, if well managed could be a support to the manufacturing sector by providing the raw material needs of the industrial sector, as well as providing employment to the people, especially in the rural areas.
Among the factors identified, as setbacks to the sector are high cost of borrowing, deregulated environment, inconsistent government policy and slow implementation of policies.
Citing the recent export stimulation facility initiative introduced by the government to drive exports in Nigeria, the stakeholders, who are currently besieged with intense hardship, lamented that no exporter has been able to access the funds for almost one year of its pronouncement.
Specifically, the Chief Executive Officer of FTN Cocoa Processors Plc, Akin Laoye, explained that the deregulated environment is impeding the growth of the processing sector, adding that cocoa sector needs some degree of regulation.
He said: "One of the major challenges the industry is facing is inconsistent government policy. Typical example is the one step forward and three steps backwards policy on the export expansion grant.
" It jeopardises planning and growth. Whatever be the problems of implementation is within the powers of the government to control. It is unhealthy to throw the baby and the birth water away.
" To deepen Nigeria's industrial base, it is counter productive to allow agricultural raw materials to be exported without adding value. Value addition will grow the industrial sector, generate employment, and enhance value of the revenue from export.
He added, "Another challenge is high cost of borrowing in Nigeria and non- accessibility to funds. The industry will do well if operators can easily access single digit credit rates.
He urged government to stop dithering on policies and do everything within its powers to find a lasting solution to tackle the ongoing recession for a brighter 2017.
Another industrialist, Chief Olusegun Osunkeye, noted that giving the strategic importance of cocoa, it is imperative that the national precarious over difference on cocoa importation should have been checked.
According to him, Nigeria has the potential of becoming a net exporter of cocoa if the capacity of the existing plantation and factories are enhanced, new ones established, and cocoa farmers encouraged and supported through the provision of credit facilities.
"The cocoa industry is one of the biggest industry in terms of its socio-economic impact in the country. Cocoa industry employs more people than the crude oil industry, but unfortunately, the industry have been treated very badly over the years.
"Government must pay particular attention in ensuring the survival of this industry because its survival is the survival of many families who have been impoverished and poor."
Osunkeye, who was the former Chairman of Nestle Food Plc, also pointed out that Nigeria has the capacity to produce enough cocoa to meet local demand and even export massively to other countries.