Forty-five-year-old Omobomi Olanrewaju, was in a five-foot by five-foot kiosk where he sells soft drinks having a light-hearted conversation with some of his friends when this reporter walked in.
The goods in Olanrewaju’s shop, one of many that dot that street in Ogbese, Ondo State, in southwest Nigeria, could not have been more than N20,000. But when the conversation with him started, it became clear that was all the source of livelihood he depended on.
But life for this man, could have been way different. If things had been the way it used to be in the days of his father, he could be living a wonderful life now, he said.
By the time his father died many years ago, Olanrewaju said he left at least six hectares of cocoa farm. It was supposed to be a source of wealth, but it quickly became a burden to the old man’s children.
“If I have the means to cultivate that cocoa farm, you can imagine how rich I would be by now. But if I venture into the cultivation, everything I make from it would go into labour and agro-chemicals. If I want to die young and in poverty, then I would go and cultivate what is left of my father’s six hectares of cocoa farmland. Many of the cocoa trees have even died off. Cocoa farming is not a joke anymore. The profit is not worth it,” the man said, with an expression that tells of the seriousness of his explanation.
This same kind of answer would be repeated by many former cocoa farmers and children of cocoa farmers that this reporter spoke with during a two-day visit to the community.
Two crops, one love
The rustic town of Ogbese in the northwest corner of the state, was once a centre of massive cocoa farming like many other towns of Ondo.
But today, Ogbese has become a community with a single reputation – one of Nigeria’s largest producers of cannabis, popularly called Indian hemp.
Just few weeks ago, the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency intercepted a shipment of 3.7 tonnes of cannabis in the area.
Few years ago, an NDLEA commander in the state said the duo of Ogbese and Owo, another town in the area, accounted for at least 95 per cent of the cannabis plantations in the state.
The reason for the large scale cannabis cultivation became apparent.
The residents explained that it is simply a matter of which of either cocoa or cannabis mostly satisfies their love for money with relatively easy production process.
“Imagine spending three to four years to cultivate cocoa from seedling to fruiting and selling it at about N500 per kilogramme despite the labour and expenses on chemicals such as Ridomin (used to fight black pod disease). But a cannabis farmer spends about six months in his own farm with little labour or expenses of fumigation and makes almost N10,000 on one kilogramme of the weed. For those who are desperate to make money, which product do you think they would rather cultivate?” a farmer asked correspondent.
This explanation may not be totally off the mark.
One tonne of cocoa according to the International Cocoa Organisation, sells at $2,520/tonne (about N794,430) as of November 11. This means N794.43 to a kilogramme.
On the other hand, the NDLEA spokesperson, Mr. Mitchell Ofoyeju, said one tonne of cannabis sells for about N10m ($31,720) on the street. That is about N10,000 for one kilogramme.
The result of this disparity is the gradual ‘death’ of cocoa and a massive cultivation of cannabis, in a state once known as the cocoa powerhouse of Nigeria.
In fact, in the 60s, Nigeria was rated the second largest cocoa producer in the world, while the area that later became Ondo State produced about 70 per cent of national output, according to the office of the state’s cocoa revolution programme.
But currently, cannabis cultivation in Ondo State has become so massive that NDLEA discovers and destroys hundreds of hectares of these farmlands every year.
In 2014, for instance, what was described as the largest cannabis farmland in Africa was found and destroyed by the agency in Ondo State.