Nigeria believes it can reclaim its lost top position in the international oil palm market. Experts under the Nigerian Export Promotion Council (NEPC) have begun to move round the oil palm belts to boost product compliance to meet international standards.
Indonesia is currently leading with about 45 million metric tonnes per annum followed by Malaysia with 18,000 mmt but Nigeria trails in distant 5th position with some 1.4mmt. Yet, officials say Nigeria has the land size, population and other motivations to push ahead and take over.
The crashing of the hydrocarbon industry (crude oil and gas) seems to serve as huge motivation because it was same hydrocarbon that pushed down oil palm. It seems to be payback time for crude oil.
Some of the strategies to push up oil palm economy seem to be underway as NEPC is now auditing what the local farmers and players in the oil palm value chain are doing. The strategy is said to be to take the report of the audit back to the headquarters where solutions would be designed and pushed back to the downline.
As NEPC moves audit scheme round oil belts
The NEPC team touched down in Port Harcourt, then the number one zone in Nigeria that helped Nigeria get to the topmost, and the region from where Malaysia was said to have picked the nuts that took them to second highest position. Rivers State is even not the number one in Nigeria at the moment, according to the chairman of the Oil Palm Growers Association of Nigeria (OPGAN), Erasmus Chukunda, most due to state government neglect of the industry over the years.
Nigeria will bounce back – Evelyn Obidike of NEPC
The NEPC team from the headquarters was led to Evelyn Obidike, Director, Product Development Equipment Unit, where the training and audit took place. The day’s event was under the theme: ‘Addressing non-conformity in quality and packaging on oil palm value chain in palm produce.’ She said NEPC found out from their previous engagements that the practitioners (from farmers to marketers) have little knowledge of what the market wants, when it comes to standards on quality and packaging requirements for export.”
The strategy is to conduct an audit right there to find out what they had and what was missing. “Some do not have tamper seal, some with no bar code, etc. We have found out what is missing, so we are going back to headquarters to design solutions for them, to design targeted intervention for the value chain.
“We must reclaim our position in the global market. We are repositioning. It is doable. That is why NEPC was set up decades ago, promotion of the export market. We have come to the grassroots and nobody has left. When we come back, we engage them more. We will come back and bring in more relevant agencies to help them. We shall get it.”
She went on: “As a FG agency for the promotion of non-export, knowing well that palm oil has huge prospects in the international market, we have come here and round Nigeria where oil palm is predominantly produced to engage the farmers at the farm gate. We are telling them the right thing to do; what the buyers want, the best practice right from the farm gate.”
Obidike said the training was practicalised from the seed, seedlings, land preparation, the maintainers, right way of harvesting, timing, handling preparation, storage, sterilizing, equipment to use, capacity, transportation, etc.
“We look at your role in the value chain; do you want to stock, process, contract packaging, etc. Permanent secretary and director of commerce were here, executives of associations, truckers, etc were all here.
“You can get it wrong at any point, because you are talking about certification (HACCP: Hazard analytic critical control point). If the truck conveying the nuts is contaminated, it’s an issue. This is just little. In packaging, it depends on the market, importer, end user, etc.”
NEPC is targeting compliance – Ganiyu Gbolagade, Regional Coordinator
The South-South regional coordinator of NEPC, Ganiyu Ahmid Gbolagade, told the participants to focus on compliance, which he said was a major concern.
“Today, we are dealing with non-compliance in palm oil value chain. It’s about engagement with the practitioners for them to understand the demands in the international market.”
He said some of the practitioners do not get some aspects right. “Nigeria faces competition in the international market. So, today, we are addressing non-compliance in the palm oil value chain through good agric practices.
“NEPC right from the headquarters felt the need to address this issue. It is for exporters and producers and they are all here.”
He said the participants fully embraced the message and NEPC experts did audit of their products. “This would help us report back what they lack and what they should pursue.
“We also trained them on packaging, the right material for palm oil products, their handling, etc. Any little error affects the product. There is certification to pursue. Many do not know or care about certifications from organisations such as the Standard Organisation of Nigeria (SON), National Agency for Food, Drugs Administration and Control (NAFDAC), etc. This is food and outside Nigeria, people do not play with what they consume.
“The concern starts from the farm. These are things that affect product reject at the international market. We are teaching them scientific farming of oil palm. That is why we brought in two very experienced practitioners with experience in exporting to come and share with the practitioners here.”
Palm oil is the red gold – Silvanus Edem, agronomist and trainer
As far as Silvanus Edem is concerned, palm oil is the Red Gold, and many people should pursue it. Edem is an agronomist and trainer in oil palm value chain who insists on full compliance for health and standards sake.
His words: “Oil palm business is lucrative enterprise. We encourage those outside it to come in. There are many aspects of it; processor, farmer, merchant, exporter, etc. There is much money to tap.
“Red Gold: Those that have tapped into it have seen the gold. It is sad that Nigeria is declining in the value point. We are producing barely 1.2mmt while we consume over 2.5mmt. The gap is huge. The export market is highly in demand.”
He however said the derivatives are in high demand everywhere. “We want our people to close this gap.”
On the lifting of ban on import of oil palm, the expert was hesitant, saying: “When we talk about importing, you are enriching outsiders. Why not produce at home and gain. Indonesia and Malaysia do everything to boost production at home and exploit the international market.”
Saying it is not about corporate farming but about what individual farmers can do or are doing. “It’s the profit that should push people to join the business. The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) is only encouraging people but the real decision and work are by individuals.
“Government can motivate the people through groups such as churches/mosques, schools, work places, etc. Government is trying but it is the people that would decide. Many agencies are pushing.”
He however said if the government feels that the gap cannot be easily closed by local production, they have right to seek outside sources. “But it would have been better to boost local effort to close this gap.”
On if the efforts of the CBN did not help close the gap, he said the CBN may not be very keen because palm tree do not mature quickly for farmers to repay the loans. “So, far there is not enough credit facilities to help farmers.”
On compliance, he said this has been a serious issue. “If you do not comply, you lose out. You will not meet up in market competition. Export demands may not help you. So, compliance is key. The effort to take back our position starts with meeting compliance because your competitors don’t want you to meet up with standards and compete.”
Help Niger Delta to return to oil palm economy – Udeme Bassey
As far as Udeme Bassey, CEO of Sustainable Small & Oil Palm Service Limited, working with NEPC to promote export, is concerned, the task before the new administrations at bot federal and state levels in the oil belt is to fight to return the Niger Delta to the oil palm economy.
He explained that some of the farmers are not doing oil palm as a business and thus do not follow the standards. “Oil palm produce is our cultural heritage but its where we have advantage. NEPC is training them, if they can adhere, they will record huge yield increase.
“Many farmers will tell you their problem is finance but knowledge is key and is what we focus on. We must work to improve the value chain.”
He said experts teach the farmers what they should do right in the value chain. “Those that have embraced it have boosted their yield.
“Those that do not adopt do not have yield and often abandon the plantations. So, we say, embrace hybrid tenera. The success of an oil palm farmer is not all about size but attention to what they have planted.”
Government role: “It is a key sector that feeds the economy. The new government should look into the affairs of the real farmers and introduce this hybrid tenera and inputs such as fertilizers that can be provided so the farmers in the Niger Delta can excel with high yields. The region should be encouraged to return to aggressive oil palm economy.”
Palm oil producers, processors, and marketers flooded the event with samples. They asked the government to intervene in many ways to attract young people back to the oil palm plantations.