Though crude oil exploration has pushed cash crops like coconut to the background in Nigeria, Akinlolu Mufutau, a coconut farmer and chairman, All Farmers Association of Nigeria (AFAN), Lagos chapter, says it is still a lucrative business.
However, like many other farming ventures, it is challenging. On many farms, coconut is usually intercropped with food crops such as maize, cassava, and cowpea. Mufutau, owner of Alolu Farm in Ajara Farm Settlement says unlike other farm estates, there has been no flooding but the heavy rains have made it impossible to plant other crops in between the coconut trees.
Mufutau, who has been in the business of coconut and other farming ventures since 37 years, has no regrets about his decision to take up farming. This is not surprising as virtually every part of the coconut plant and fruit is useful as food and also has commercial value.
Copra is the white edible part of the coconut that has been dried and from which the coconut oil is extracted. Coconut oil has been described by experts as having high nutritional value. It is used in the cosmetic industry to produce creams and soaps and in making of many food items. After the oil has been extracted, the remaining coconut cake is used in the production of livestock feed because of its high protein content.
Coconut milk is extracted by grating mature coconuts. It is particularly useful in the making of confectioneries-coconut chips, cakes, biscuits, cookies, candies, etc. When the grated coconut is squeezed, the milky white liquid that results is also used in preparation of many foods.
Coir, the fibrous husk of the coconut, is used in making of ropes, yarns, aquarium filters, car seat covers, flower pots, soundproofing, mulch for plant growing, heat insulation, brushes, bristles, mattresses, door mats and matting, rugs, carpets and so on. The palm frond is used in building beach huts for tourists and houses in the villages.
As a result, coconut is always in high demand. It is therefore not surprising that Mufutau has held on to this venture in spite of the many challenges in farming. He says after the agriculture training course he undertook in 1972/1973, he was posted to the Ajara Farm Settlement in Badagry where each farmer is given a two bedroom house.
He reveals: “I started with permanent crops like coconut and oil palm, which had already been planted by the government and handed over to the young farmers to maintain. I was also given 100 point of lay chickens. But the coconut trees were not doing fine, I had to cut them down. I bought new seedlings and planted new ones. The West African variety takes about seven and half years to mature and yield, but the exotic variety takes about four and half years. I have both.”
He adds, “Coconut farming is very lucrative but the processing is very capital intensive. I also plant vegetables. I chose to specialise in coconut because Badagry is a coastal area and coconut normally thrives in coastal areas.”
Even with about 600 trees under his cultivation, Mufutau sells his coconuts fresh. He explains, “Processing coconut has huge capital outlay.
The machine for processing oil from copra costs about N800, 000. It is going to need regular maintenance. After harvesting, there would be the need to break them. They would have to first be sun dried. We are in the Southwest where rains can be heavy, so one would need to erect shades with tarpaulin that would be huge investment for processing on commercial scale, labour would be required which means payment of wages and salaries.
So, I sell the coconuts unprocessed because there is a ready market. Dealers come from the north and east to buy coconuts and transport there for processing. The fresh white edible part if processed has 30 to 35 percent oil and the dried one called copra has 65 percent oil.
There are export opportunities but it is not being done on a large scale because the government does not give adequate support for such initiatives, since crude oil generates foreign exchange for the country.
He adds that “but the uses of the coconut plant are almost endless. The shell is used for charcoal when burnt. The husk can be used for foot mats, but it is not a commercial scale anymore. Even the water is nourishing. When people buy coconut, they drink the water but it can be packaged if well preserved, and if people know it is hygienic they will buy and such a product would be sold at premium prices.”
I am also in into poultry, goats, sheep and cattle rearing and I plant vegetables as well. The advantage of having an integrated farming system is that the livestock wastes can be used as manure - organic fertilizers for the vegetables, that is organic farming, which is now being encouraged. Organic foods are healthier for the body.