In Nigeria, there seems to be no sign of foreign companies’ interest in local cannabis. But farmers who spoke with our correspondent said they are already ‘exporting’ the product to neighbouring countries.
James Akorede is 35 years old, who began to cultivate cannabis 10 years ago. Like Iyanda, he was eager to show off his cannabis-gotten material success.
“I began cannabis farming 10 years ago. I have two houses and a car,” he announces.
Though he inherited cocoa farms from his grandfather went to school with their proceeds, Akorede feels cultivating the crop is a thing of the past. According to him, there is no chocolate industry in the country. He also pointed out that the government at all levels have no plans to rejuvenate the cocoa industry.
“No cocoa processing plants anymore. But the cannabis market is huge; the consumer is large,” he explains. He sells his cannabis beyond the borders of Nigeria.
“I have customers from neighbouring West African countries like Benin, Togo, Ghana, and Cameroon,” he reveals, as he scratched his armpit under the scorching sun.
“I have markets in Lagos, Ibadan, and Abuja too.”
Walking deep into the bush with dry leaves rustling under one’s feet, Shadrach Arinola led the way into his cannabis farm after trekking for more than an hour.
The vast cannabis farm of the 67-year-old is incredible. Even though he has been into cocoa cultivation all his years, “built many houses and sent many of his children abroad from cocoa farming’s proceeds”, he soon fell into hard times.
“But things fell apart a few years back,” he notes. “Though I still make some income farming cocoa but not like before.” One of his sons, who had returned from the United States of America, introduced him to cannabis farming. “NDLEA destroyed a large part of my cannabis farm two years ago”, he said, but today, he is back to the business.
“I said goodbye to cocoa and welcomed cannabis because of its huge profits. The return on investment is very high. There is no amount of frustration from the NDLEA that will stop me from investing in cannabis,” Arinola vows.
The statistics of cannabis seizure and destruction by the anti-narcotic agency can be daunting for any would-be cannabis farmer. Between 2013 and 2015, the NDLEA destroyed farmlands containing 68.1million kilogrammes of cannabis, worth N681 billion on the street.
In 2013, out of the 339,968kg of drug seized by the NDLEA, 205,373kg of it was cannabis alone. That year, the agency destroyed 847 hectares of farmland across the country, containing an estimated 10,051,554kg of cannabis.
In 2014, it confiscated 158,852kg of cannabis and destroyed 4,529 hectares of cannabis farmland containing an estimated 53,719,342kg of cannabis plants. In 2015, the cannabis, the NDLEA said it seized 871,480kg of cannabis and destroyed 377 farmlands with 4.4 million kilogrammes of cannabis.
For 72-year-old Hafiz Ogundele, those figures are not sufficient to stop him from joining the set of farmers working “less but making more money”.
It is Arinola’s conviction and success that is pushing him to start a cannabis farm. His plan is to begin cultivating cannabis by 2020. “Since cocoa farming is not encouraging,” he reasons, “and new improved varieties of cocoa seeds aren’t available, I’m determined to start a cannabis farm next year.” Ogundele lamented that he had attended many seminars organised by various government’s agencies.
“The ADP promised cocoa farmers new varieties and pesticides to combat cocoa plant diseases. But all the promises did not yield any results. So my production was very low which resulted in low revenue,” the aged farmer says.
According to him, at a point, he was unable to take care of his family. All his responsibilities could not be met.
“Next year, I’ve made up my mind. I’m jumping on the bandwagon of cannabis farming.”
Olusola Adeleke, a consultant for the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), believes that what makes cocoa farmers ditch cocoa for cannabis is because “cocoa planting is a perennial crop that needs a lot of good agronomic practices year in, year out.
“But cannabis is not like that. It is a sought-after crop. A bag of cannabis can fetch a farmer some N200,000,” the agriculture expert says. Adeleke believes legalising cannabis farming will do more good than harm to Nigerians.
“With what I have seen the legalization of cannabis will be a huge welcome and it will add to the government’s internally-generated revenue – both farmers and the government will be happy,” Adeleke says.