BY ONOME AMUGE
Despite being a major component for the production of over 40 essential items, excluding cooking, palm oil production has remained heavily underexploited in Nigeria with outdated processing methods majorly practised in the country, resulting in high production deficits and supply gaps, with the country requiring about $500 million worth of palm oil to meet its annual local demand.
Joe Onyiuke, the national president of Oil Palm Growers Association of Nigeria (OPGAN), made the assertion at a recent town hall meeting with the Akwa Ibom State chapter of OPGAN held in Uyo, the state capital.
Onyiuke lamented that Nigeria’s oil palm production level is so bad that the fifth largest producer in the world with an estimated production capacity of about 1.4 million tonnes in the 2021/22 season, does not have any capacity to export palm oil again.
He also observed that the war in Russia-Ukraine conflict has further constrained major palm oil producing countries of Malaysia and Indonesia to limit their export capacities with Nigeria unable to attend to increasing export requests since production levels have stagnated overtime.
Speaking on the relevance of oil palm production, the OPGAN president explained that oil production affects the lives of the Nigerian populace everywhere, especially in the food industry.
“Without palm oil, you can’t have your noodles, pasta, soap, margarine, mayonnaise, chocolate, toothpaste and many others in the food industry. Oil palm is the key because more than 40 items are produced from it, and so when you talk about food security in the world, oil palm remains key,” he stated.
According to Onyiuke, poor funding and proliferation of unorganised smallholder farms and low participation of youths, remain major constraints to increasing production levels.
For the gap to be bridged, he said OPGAN has taken it upon itself to organise members properly towards galvanising its strength for increased quality production, leveraging on a ready and willing market and a surge in price of the commodity as enough incentive for them to increase efforts on production.
He added that local palm oil producers would need to re-strategise their efforts at both production and organisation to be able to attract the necessary funding needed for improved and increased production.
He further tasked members of the association on the need for cooperatives and clusters for easy access to loans, assuring that the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) loan facility for members would be ready in three months for those able to meet the requirements and conditions stipulated by the apex bank.
Onyiuke enjoined local government coordinators to promote mobilisation for new members, adding that the association has initiated moves to float a microfinance bank and institute a health insurance policy for the oil palm producers, while arrangements have been concluded for special loans for women and youth farmers in the association.
He emphasised that the over 200,000 members of the association have been invigorated for improved business processes, while efforts are being made to increase the 250,000 hectares of plantation land owned by OPGAN members nationwide.
Olusegun Solomon, a senior official of the Nigerian Institute for Oil Palm Research (NIFOR), charged palm oil producers to increase their collaboration with NIFOR to boost quality production. He also warned of the prevalence of saboteurs who deceive farmers with fake NIFOR seedlings and fruits.
Solomon stated further that most plantations in the country have become very old and outdated, and would need systematic replanting. He added that oil palm processing needs to be updated and modernised for optimum production and increased profitability.