‘Younger generations may send farming to extinction’
Alamu Ogunsola, who is in his 60s, has been dealing in cocoa and kola nuts for over 50 years. In this interview, he speaks on the process of planting kola nuts, the challenges at the farm, marketing and myths surrounding the fruit, which he feared may go
Can you tell us where we are?
You are at Alapako in Obafemi area of Ogun State. I have about six acres of kola nut plantation. In years past, it is more than that. However, things have changed because of weather and soil and also because the Hausa people that used to come to the farm to buy the nuts are no longer coming due to the problem of insurgency there. It is now vice-versa, we have to be carrying the nuts to the markets ourselves now. Yet, my wife will return them unsold.
That is why now we do not remove them from the veil (those in baskets in the picture) we just cut the pod and bring them out to carry to the market, because we envisaged that we may not likely have our customers to come and buy. Those we do not cut the pod can remain like that for months, we shall be putting chemical to prevent insects from eating them. And when we are ready, we cut them and bring the nuts out.
How does planting of kola nut begin?
Well, we first clear the land. We then start planting very near the waterside and later, after about six months, we remove them to start re-planting them with about 10-feet gap, because they are usually very wide in branches, so we give such gaps. After that, we begin to tender it and be removing the weeds for another five to six years, when it starts to bring fruits. That is where my fear lies. This generation is not ready to be patient as we have been and wait for seven years.
Does that mean the kola nut will go into extinction?
No, it may not for now, but, as I said, by the time we go (retire) there is going to be problem, there is no government to assist. To call boys to come and be doing the weeding, they charge exorbitantly. They are not even in the village again; you can see that this village is completely deserted. But, when it is rainy season, they will come back to plant maize, cassava and yam and that is all. So, if people like us retire, then anything can happen to kola nut farming in Nigeria.
How many of you are still in the kola nut farming?
We are quite a number, with various acres. We have about 50 acres put together in this area.
The government is not giving attention to kola nut like cocoa and I do not know the reason, thereby leaving us to savour both the good and bad of kola nut
But, kola nut farming is very strenuous and requires a lot of patience. So, after five years, we begin to harvest every year and later after about six years again, the soil becomes weak and we have to clear them. We make money from the trees by selling to be used as plywood by saw-millers. From the farm, we harvest, we have late harvest now, so the pods are no longer dropping themselves. We cut the pods and remove the kola nuts; we get about 12 or 10 in a pod. We then washed them and keep for about two weeks and spread them to add Gamalin to prevent insect infection. There is a particular insect, if it is allowed to get into kola nut tree, it will eat it dry. As I said earlier, if it was in years past, ours is just to take the Hausa to the farm to go and be packing them. Our wives and children will take them to the market on market days to sell. A good productive tree can fetch up to five baskets.
What is the gain and loss of kola farming?
During harvest is the gain, but after harvest nothing again, you have to start tendering them again and at that period, it is a loss. Again, this crisis in the north is giving us problem, but, thank God, the situation improved a little bit this year (smiling).
So what is the difference between goro (the normal kola), abata (traditional/native kola), and orogbo (bitter ola)?
This is goro (showing a pod). It is the one eaten mostly by the Hausa. It is what we have in abundance here. And those in Igbo land. But, I understand from history that this is where you can get the best of kola nuts. They (Hausa) say it gives them strength and nourishment. Incidentally, I do not eat kola. As for traditional or native kola, as the name implies, we understand it is mainly used by our elders for traditional purpose. The Hausa do not even go near it. When you get to Ogunmakin kola nut market (which was visited by our correspondent later), you will discover that only our people sell native kola. There is no special thing, except it does not contain much in the pod like the normal kola. For, bitter kola, I do not even have the farm, because I will not live to witness its harvest. It takes about 70 years before harvest. So, if I have the farm now, I will not see it procreate unlike kola nut.
Is government making any economic gains in kola nut farming?
I do not think so. The government is not giving attention to kola nut like cocoa and I do not know the reason, thereby leaving us to savour both the good and bad of kola nut farming.
Do you have any regrets going into kola nut farming?
No regret at all. I am proud to be a kola nut farmer and my colleagues are, too. If we get government support we can transform our kola nut farm into new plantation, as we shall employ our younger ones with good money to pay them.