Nigeria is the third-largest cocoa producer in Africa and the fourth-largest globally after Ivory Coast, Ghana, and Indonesia. Data from Statista indicated that Nigeria produced approximately 280,000 metric tons of cocoa beans in 2022. This highlights the country’s position as a significant contributor to the global cocoa value chain.
Expectedly, cocoa is Nigeria’s leading agricultural export, contributing a significant chunk of its GDP through export earnings and incomes for those involved in its value chain.
Historically, cocoa has always been one of Nigeria’s largest export commodities. However, the discovery of crude oil caused a significant drop in interest in the industry, resulting in its decline between the late 60s and early 2000s. Thankfully, there’s been a tremendous growth of interest in the industry recently, with companies such as Sunbeth Global Concepts frontrunning the charge to bring back the glory days when Nigeria was the second largest cocoa producer globally.
Cocoa trees thrive in areas within 20 degrees of the equator (North and South). These environments experience relatively high temperatures and distributed rainfall, which are necessary for cocoa to flourish. As a result, Nigeria’s cocoa production is concentrated in the country’s southwestern and southern regions, with the states of Ondo, Cross River, Osun, Oyo, and Ogun being the primary producers.
However, not all cocoa varieties produced globally are obtainable in Nigeria. While multiple types are able to thrive and produce brilliantly in various regions of the country, not all of them are being cultivated in Nigeria. Below are some of the common cocoa varieties obtainable in Nigeria.
Forastero Cocoa (Cacao Amargo)
ALT: Forastero Cocoa
Forastero cocoa is the most common variety grown in Nigeria and globally. This variety is known for its hardy nature and high resistance to diseases. As such, it can thrive anywhere and produce a high yield if the environment supports cocoa growth.
These beans are often referred to as bulk cocoa because they are relatively easy to produce and are more readily available than others. Up to 80% of the world’s chocolate is made from Forestaro cocoa beans.
A distinctive characteristic of the Forastero cocoa variety is its large, rounded pod containing roughly 40 – 60 cocoa beans. These pods typically have a green colouration, which turns yellow as they ripen.
Portuguese explorers introduced Cocoa into the Gulf of Guinea towards the end of the nineteenth Century. This was the genesis of cocoa production in Nigeria and West Africa generally. The cocoa variety brought by the explorers then was the Amelonado Cacao.
This cocoa variety was the most prevalent strain grown in West Africa until the late 1940s, earning it the moniker “West Africa Amelonado.” However, due to its susceptibility to diseases such as the swollen shoot and phytophthora pot rot diseases and drought, cocoa farmers began ignoring it for the more resilient Forestaros and Trinitario varieties.
It is no longer as common as the Forastero cocoa in Nigeria. However, it remains one of the varieties obtainable in the country.
Criollo Cocoa (Cacao Dulce)
ALT: Criollo Cocoa
Also known as sweet cocoa, this variety is known for its unique taste, making it one of the most sought-after cocoa varieties by craft chocolate makers globally. Unlike the Forastero Cocoa, Criollo cocoa seed is only mildly acidic and has a natural sweetness with its delicate flavour.
However, it is also scarce due to the difficulty of its cultivation. The Criollo cocoa strain is fragile and highly susceptible to diseases. As such, it requires extreme care to produce. In addition, it’s a low-yielding strain with an expected average yield of 1.5 tonnes per hectare. These are all contributing factors to its rarity.
However, regardless of frailty and complex cultivation requirements, the Criollo cocoa strain is one of the few that can thrive in Nigeria with the proper cultivation approach and practices.
Trinitario cocoa is a hybrid variety derived by crossbreeding Forastero and Criollo cocoa beans. It is widely considered to be better than the Forestaro variety because it incorporates the positive traits of the Forestaro and Criollo cocoa beans. This variety combines the disease resistance and high yield capabilities of Forastero with the exquisite taste of Criollo.
Other Hybrid Varieties
Over the years, the Cocoa Research Institute of Nigeria (CRIN) has developed eight new strains of cocoa hybrids through its crossbreeding initiatives. The new strains have been labelled CRIN TC-1, CRIN TC-2, CRIN TC-3, CRIN TC-4, CRIN TC-5, CRIN TC-6, CRIN TC-7, and CRIN TC-8.
These new strains have diverse genetic bases. However, they all share a common high yield with low input traits. They are also early-bearing and resistant to most pests and diseases affecting cocoa.
Nigeria’s diverse cocoa varieties showcase the country’s potential in the global cocoa market.
With the right investment and focus, cocoa has arguably the largest potential to rival crude oil as the country’s biggest export revenue generator. But, in the meantime, Nigeria continues to make significant contributions to the global cocoa value chain in quality, variety, and quantity.