For many years, the oil palm industry has been in limbo. What is now left in the country’s position is the history of how Malaysia came and collected seedlings from Nigeria and today it become the biggest global player.
At every workshop, on agriculture, the issue always gets mentioned. Today, the country is a net importer of oil palm as most farms have either been abandoned or neglected couple with the aging population of farmers in that subsector.
Last week, the Central Bank of Nigeria Governor, Mr Godwin Emefele painted a worrisome picture and a grim future when he said the country spends $500 million on palm oil import annually instead of reaping $10 billion at the current $600 per tonne, if we had continually sustained the effort since the early 60s.
“Today, we are a distant fifth among leading producers of palm oil. We barely produce up to three percent of the global output with an estimated production of 800,000 MT while countries like Malaysia and Indonesia produce 25 million and 41 million tonnes respectively.
“We have also become a net importer of palm oil, importing between 400,000 – 600,000 MT of palm oil in order to meet local demand for this commodity,” he said.
With Nigeria’s population expected to hit 430 million by 2050, the import figure could reach a billion dollar and that could be a serious problem because every house in Nigeria uses palm oil.
Emefiele, in a meeting with stakeholders in the oil palm value chain, South-South and South East governors in Abuja, announced the addition of the oil palm to the ongoing Anchor Borrowers Programme (ABP) and Commercial Agriculture Credit Scheme (CASC).
He said lending would not exceed nine percent yearly, which is also enjoying by other crops under the AB programme. This is good news for the industry but few issues need to be properly addressed.
Oil palm farming is not like rice that you harvest in 3-4 months. It takes an average of four to ten years for some of the early maturing seedlings to start producing bunches for the farmers.
Therefore, a more friendly and flexible repayment system and monitory should be worked out for the farmers in addition to strengthening the extension delivery system to them.
Secondly, a lot of smallholder farmers (with 0 to 1 hectare) who already benefited from the ABP under rice and maize still feel that the 9% interest rate is a challenge to pay. Some think that 5% is more friendly, which is why many of them under the rice programme is struggling to pay.
This is a concern was already expressed by the National President of Maize Association of Nigeria Alhaji Bello Funtua and the All Farmers Association of Nigeria, Arch Kabiru Ibrahim.
For the large commercial farmers that will benefit under the CASC, this interest rate regime will be a boost for expansion.
But the issue of available early-maturing quality seedlings must be addressed head-on and regularly by the mandate research institute otherwise, many farmers will not begin repayment even after 15 years.
For the programme to succeed, funding to the Nigeria Institute for Oil Palm Research in Benin City to develop improved high yielding seedlings for farmers at regular intervals will oil the wheel of the initiative.
In Edo State, Palm oil farmers are optimistic that the one single digits loan proposed by the Federal government through the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), will make Nigeria self-sufficiency in palm oil if well handled and implemented.
Some of the farmers who spoke to our reporter lamented oil palm farmers did not benefit from the anchor-borrower programme of the federal government.
One of the oil palm farmers, Harrison Okpamen, said the loan is a welcomed development if it will get to the real farmers, as other programmes of such nature didn’t benefit oil palm farmers.
“If there is sincerity in the implementation, the programme will improve the oil palm sector. Since this development, we have been the authority in charge but we are yet to be registered. We don’t want this programme to be like other programmes where non-farmers are the one that benefited from the loan instead of real farmers.
Also speaking another palm oil farmers, Prof. Odabi I. odabi, said the loan is good if it will reach the farmers that really need a loan for production.
“From experience, real farmers have never benefited from such loan. Since I became a palm oil farmers on returning from the United States of America, I have not benefited from any loan. In the past when loans are given to states, in the North, farmers do benefit but here we have not.
“The loan will not get to the real farmers who are at the grass root and that is why it will not work. Ideally, it is a good policy but they have to make it accessible to the real farmers. Some real farmers may get it but they will use it for other purposes instead of investing the loan on the farm,” he claimed.
He said until the government identified the real farmers who will utilize the benefit of the loan, the laudable policy will not achieve its objectives.
Prof. Odabi said, “funds and non-availability of land are the major challenges facing oil palm farmers, with the loan, farmer can have the fund to spend on the farm for improving yields.
He added that non-availability of labour is another challenge as young men are not willing to go to farm and that they relied on labourer to work on their farms.
He said “the only way forward is to give a soft loan to palm oil farmers by identifying the real farmers that will effectively utilize the loan. Government after giving the loan, should monitored the utilization of such loan effectively because the officers doing the monitoring are not doing their job.”
Also, “government should provide working tools to reduce the intensity of labour by farmers. If farmers have those tools, they can use tractors to clear the land and other things and by so doing farmers will spend less to achieve much yield.
Another farmer, Ernest Osas, said if fully implemented, it will enhance oil production and takes care of the major challenges facing palm oil farmers.
“Non-availability of the fund is one of the major challenges facing us. If we can get the loans it will help us to take care of other challenges and improve our yields. We didn’t benefit from the anchor-borrower programme as it was high jacked by the businessmen who claimed to be farmers,” he said.
Date palm farmers should be considered too
While promoting oil palm is very significant to the economy, it should also include all members of the palm family.
For example, Nigeria consumes a lot of dates and there are thousands of farmers spread across the north.
NIFOR has the mandate to improve not only oil palm seedlings but also date palm trees-and it already doing some good work on both.
According to FAO the date fruit, which is produced in many desert regions of the world, “is marketed all over the world as a high-value confectionery and fruit crop and remains an extremely important subsistence crop in most of the desert regions.”
In 2016, UAE exported 275,862.901, Oman exported 15,699.836 in 2016 while Saudi Arabia 117,017.911 under the same period making millions of Dollars from the exports.
Dates, apart from the health benefits, also has some religion relevance and is widely consumes by millions of people in Nigeria.
Therefore, promoting it will as well enhance the economy of the farmers and further drive the diversification drive of the government.
Source: Daily Trust