Revamping the palm oil production

The report that Nigeria spends $600 million annually to import palm oil is both scandalous and highly reprehensible considering the fact that Nigeria used to be the biggest producer of palm oil in the world in the 60s. Nigeria’s unbridled importation of palm oil, a product we have the capacity to produce and export to other countries speaks volumes of the utter neglect of the agricultural sector by all tiers of government. Almost all the states in the South and some in the Middle Belt are within the palm tree growing belt of the country and should be prepared to tap into the highly lucrative production of palm oil as well as palm kernel and other products from palm tree. Palm tree is one cash crop that every part of it is very useful and of economic value. There are even no wastages as far as palm tree is concerned.

The huge import bill of palm oil was revealed by Alphonsus Inyang, the National President of the National Palm Produce Association of Nigeria (NPPAN). Available information shows that Nigeria now occupies the 5th position among palm oil producing countries in the world. Indonesia is the first and quickly followed by Malaysia, Thailand and Columbia. Instructively, Malaysia took its first set of palm tree seedlings from Nigeria in the 60s. According to NPPAN, Indonesia produces 50 metric tons of palm oil, Malaysia 19 million metric tons, Thailand 3.28 metric tons, Columbia 1.9 metric tons and Nigeria 1.4 million metric tons. This is quite unfair and must be reversed forthwith.

Outside crude oil, gas and solid minerals, palm oil is our next gold in terms of revenue earning. This is one crop states in the South-East, South-South, South-West and North Central can maximize its production and earn so much money from it than what they get from monthly oil money allocation from the federal government. Similarly, the 19 states of the North can earn so much money from agriculture through growing dates, groundnut, rice, maize, millet and other grains. The region has the capacity to grow onions, tomatoes, peppers, fruits and vegetables that will earn Nigeria a lot of revenues. They have high potential for producing fish, meat and dairy products.

Despite having enough arable land and human resources for farming for all seasons, it is sad that Nigeria is not yet food-secure. It is unacceptable that Nigeria is still the poverty capital of the world with over 133 million of its population facing multidimensional poverty. We still depend so much on food importation. That is why we spend so much money on the importation of even foods that we have the capacity to produce. Our food import bill is rising and scary.

According to the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and the Nigeria Bureau of Statistics (NBS), Nigeria spent a whopping N7.8 trillion on food imports in the last six years. Our food imports gulped N2trillion in 2021and N1.9trillion in 2022. Unfortunately, our agricultural exports have not been encouraging. Export from the sector was N321billion in 2020, N504.9billion in 2021 and N598billion in 2022.

Whether we like it or not, agriculture remains our low-hanging fruit to revamp the battered economy. Unfortunately, the sub-national governments are paying lip service to this important sector. Agriculture has many advantages in revamping the economy and overall development of the country. Apart from ensuring food security, it is going to earn us so much revenue and provide the much-needed jobs. Agriculture is highly sustainable.

The federal, state and local governments should begin to invest massively in agriculture, especially agro-business. They should make agriculture attractive to young people, especially young graduates. If agriculture is prioritized, Nigeria has the capacity to feed the entire West Africa. It has the potential to export many agricultural products to the world. To tap into the sector’s emerging food value chain, we must endeavour to develop the business side of agriculture. Instead of relying so much on exportation of agricultural raw materials, efforts should be urgently made to process our agricultural products.

For example, instead of exporting yam tubers, we export yam flour. This can be replicated with cassava, tea, coffee, cocoa, groundnut, palm oil and even dates, cashew, tomatoes, peppers, ugu and uha leaves. We have so many agricultural products waiting for exports. However, these products must meet global standards, in terms of quality and packaging.  Our agricultural products have been rejected abroad because of poor packaging and issues around quality and other matters.

Therefore, I challenge the governors of the South-East and other governors in the country to begin to invest so much states’ resources into agriculture. Anambra State was known before for exporting ugu and other agricultural products during the tenure of former Governor Willie Obiano. Nobody knows if the state is still doing so today under Governor Charles Chukwuma Soludo, who promised to turn the state into another Dubai. Apart from his exploits in the agricultural sector, Obiano built the Anambra Cargo Airport, which Soludo, quickly renamed after Chinua Achebe, the renowned novelist and great thinker.

Nigerian farmers should be encouraged with fertilizer, improved seedlings, tractors and other technological input to make agriculture a profitable venture. Anambra, Imo, Enugu, Abia and Ebonyi states can arrest the present youth restiveness in the zone through prioritizing agricultural production and providing the youths with jobs. Former Premier of defunct Eastern region, Dr. MI Okpara did a lot of things with agriculture and made the region’s economy one of the fastest growing in the world then. Okpara established farm settlements and planted palm trees and cashier nuts and cocoa in the former region to boost its economy.

The five governors of the region can still invoke the Okpara spirit and jointly or separately develop the region. Every state will leverage on cash crops it has comparative advantage. One of the drivers of insecurity in the South-East and the entire country is poverty. As more people become poor and hungry on a daily basis, there is bound to be violence and even lawlessness. Our development paradigm must be agro-based first before thinking of sending man to the space and conquering the universe.

There is nothing wrong with exploring the outer space, but you cannot send an angry and hungry man into the space just for the sake of it. Going to the moon is good, but we must do first things first. Let us satisfy our basic needs first. They include food, water, air, shelter, and clothing. Despite having enough water sources, both surface and deep waters, millions of Nigerians don’t have access to potable water. That is why we experience water-borne diseases annually.

The federal government should urgently review the nation’s huge food import bills and remove certain items we have the local capacity to produce from the list. We should stop the importation of palm oil and indeed any products from palm tree into the country. As one of the major producers of palm oil in the world, we have no business importing palm oil even from countries that got their first palm seedlings from Nigeria. Banning the importation of palm oil will help to protect the palm oil industry in the country and encourage its massive production. We must regain our prime position as the number one palm oil producer in the world as we used to do in the 60s.

Our political office holders, especially the president and governors should begin to think seriously on how to really develop the country. No foreigner will develop Nigeria for us. The white man has done his bit towards our development. We should take it up from there as Chinese and Indians have done. The world is no longer waiting for Nigeria to catch up. They have moved on at an incredible speed. We must hit the ground running and stop being stuck with second term syndrome, which has further contributed to the underdevelopment of the African giant.

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button