Before the discovery of crude oil in current-day Bayelsa state, agriculture was the mainstay of the Nigeria’s economy. Its major crops were palm oil, corn, rice, groundnuts, millet, cassava, yam, rubber, timber, cocoa among others.
It is not as if these crops have gone into extinct in the country .They are still very much being grown in Nigeria .However, this past years, Nigeria has been very dependent on crude oil that it neglected its agriculture and focused heavily on crude oil.
While Nigeria works towards diversifying its economy to agriculture, let us look at one Nigeria’s major cash crops called cocoa.
History favors the presence of cocoa in the South West region of Nigeria mainly occupied by the Yoruba tribe of the country. This is because in its early development, cocoa was introduced in that particular region of the country around 1887 when cocoa seedlings from the old Botanic Garden at Ebute-Metta, Lagos were sent up to Ibadan for trial. A successful trial it was.
The Cocoa house was a pointer of the success of cocoa's introduction and its widespread cultivation in the South West of Nigeria at that point in time. The 26 storey cocoa house was among the tallest building in Africa. It still stands in the city of Ibadan. The Cocoa house was built back then in 1965 from proceeds from cocoa, timber from the then Western Nigeria. This is the pointer to how lucrative agriculture was, and still is.
Indeed, the initiative and entrepreneurship of the West African peasant farmer back then caused the flourishing of the cocoa industry was established in West Africa at large.
Cocoa belongs to the genus, Theobroma cacao, in the family of the Sterculiaceae. Over 20 species of Theobroma are recognized. Cocoa grows in form of cocoa bean on the cacao tree. All cacao tree cultivated for the international market belongs to the single species, Theobroma cacao. There are three large and distinct groups within the species, Theobroma cacao. There is the Criollo, the Trinitarion, and the Forastero Amazonian.
The cacao tree is a tap-rooted plant and requires deep, well-drained soils, free from iron concentration, high in nutrient content, and a topsoil rich in organic matter. Cacao soils should have adequate clay content.
Now, it is very much important for one to have knowledge of the ways of growing cocoa seeds in the nursery. This practice is very important, as nursery is a temporary site that prepares a plant for life on the field, ensuring the plant is well adapted to the prevailing environment conditions in the field, which of course should be closer to that of the nursery’s environment. In addition, there would be a situation that one have interest in going into an agricultural venture but do not have the capital, as for now. It is advisable that the individual start with just buying the seeds, nursing them for a period of time for them to germinate, put them in the nursery bags, let them grow for some months ,and then sell them off to an end users who have the money down to go into full scale farming.
With the following steps below, one can raise cacao seedlings in the nursery successfully to sell off to the agro market:
Now, cacao seedlings readily germinate when sown and do not pass through a dormancy period. They lose viability on extraction from the pod within five to seven days unless specially treated. Cacao seeds are therefore best stored in the pods where they remain viable for up to four weeks after harvesting. If however, it is necessary to extract the seeds from the pods for storage purpose, the farmer can mix the extracted seeds with moist fine sand, moist sawdust or moist ground charcoal. The mixture should then be stored in a cool place. Wooden boxes are preferable to closed jars or tins because they permit some aeration for the respiration of the living seeds. Under such conditions, extracted cacao seeds can be stored for two to three weeks, but invariably some of the seeds already germinate within this period.
In nursery beds, the farmer plants single seeds per hole, which are usually 15 mm to 20 mm deep, and 15 cm to 16 cm apart. After planting, the farmer waters the cacao seeds lightly every day. The seeds will germinate in 7 days to 10 days. After germination, the farmer increases the amount of watering, depending on the quantity of prevailing rain. It is advisable to confine watering to the mornings and evenings.
The farmer can sow the cacao seeds in poly bags as well. These should measure 20 cm by 12 cm and have drainage holes. They are filled with fertile sifted topsoil, all the better if it is the loamy soil. Then, there is heavy watering of the filled bags the night before the farmer sows the seeds .The farmer sows the seeds one per bag. Light watering occurs after sowing daily until germination (7 to 10 days) .Adequate water should be readily available after germination through the most effective of the different types of irrigation system in Agriculture that is ideal for life in the nursery. Of course, one cannot employ surface irrigation from a river for the nursery. A drip irrigation system is ideal for watering the cacao seeds in the nursery.
Once germinated, there should be provision of shade to the seedlings. There should be a regular examination of the seedlings for diseases and pests. A farmer should make it a point of duty to uproot any seedlings that show symptoms of virus and/or bacterial infection and burn them as soon as possible in an incinerator. He or she also makes use of the most potent of chemicals to control fungal and insect attacks. There is no need to apply fertilizer to cacao seedlings in the nursery. About a week before transplanting, the farmer should dig in situ the seedlings in the nursery beds.
This preliminary partial digging in situ stimulates the initiation of new roots prior to transplanting into the field. This treatment necessitates extreme care during final digging to ensure that there is no damage done to the fragile young roots. If the planting site is near, there is lifting and planting of each seedling, making use of the ball-of-earth method. This method of transplanting ensures that a ball of soil, like the size of one's fist, forms a cover over the root. Where long distance transportation of seedlings is unavoidable, the farmer has no choice than to use transplanting through the naked root method .However, he must treat the seedlings with clay slurry. Seedlings in poly bags do not require this treatment. One major activity the farmer must employ before transplanting into the field is the spraying of the seedlings against diseases and pests.
Some other general recommendations for seedlings in nurseries are as follow:
- Nurseries should be on clear-felled land near a permanent water supply. The farmer should ensure there is provision of artificial shade of palm fronds to the seedlings, using 8 to 10 palm fronds per 3 m length of nursery bed.
- He or she sows the cocoa seeds in pots containing forest topsoil. He should avoid doing the actual sowing at the hottest time of the day. It is advisable that sowing occurs in December to February to allow the seedlings a period of four months of growth in the nursery before transplanting.
- The farmer waters the pot thoroughly after sowing, but thereafter lightly, every second day for the remainder of the dry season. This light and sparse watering does not occur during the harmattan periods when watering every day may be necessary.
- The palm fronds shade will dry out naturally. Still, the farmer should remove them about a week before transplanting.
- Seedlings should be no more than four to five months when transplanted. The farmer must ensure that there is no damage done to the seedlings in the way from the nursery to the field.
With application of organic or inorganic fertilizer, continual watering, and weeding, the cocoa matures to a plant after 3 to 5 years. The farmer harvests the ripe cocoa pod by carefully cutting off each of the pod using a sharp cutlass, harvesting knife or sickle without damaging the flower cushion. He breaks open each of the pods by opening with a blunt cutlass to remove the cocoa beans. After this, he ferments the cocoa beans by using the tray method or the sweat box method for five days. There is chemical change that occurs with the cocoa beans under the heat. The beans changes to a red brown color and develop the characteristic chocolate flavor .Theobromine is one of the properties of fermentation and gives the cocoa its stimulating property. After fermentation, the farmer dries the seeds making use of a drier. After which, he can process the cocoa beans further to make those steaming, stimulating and refreshing chocolate drinks.