• Thursday, June 13, 2024
businessday logo

BusinessDay

NEPC pushes to boost palm oil production in Rivers

96EE6BA7-D477-42FA-B99A-19FA76E008BF

Rivers State is said to have done nothing to boost oil palm economy in over a decade apart from handing its palm oil scheme over to a foreign company to manage.

Now, the Nigerian Export Promotion Council (NEPC) office in the South-South has taken up the task of pushing for the revival of the oil palm production in the state, especially in the small-holder sector.

Palm oil is Rivers One-State-One-Product (OSOP) number one product in addition to cassava, but the federal agency says nothing seems to have been done to boost export of palm oil by small-holder farmers who hold 70 percent of land under oil palm cultivation.

The NEPC has thus started by mounting a one-day training for oil palm farmers in the state.

The regional coordinator, Ahmid Ganiyu said the workshop was to help push for it because it has been discovered that for Nigeria to move forward and get away from oil dependency economy other products must be developed.

He said that palm oil has to be restored because it had been the pillar of export but most of the palm trees are old and cannot produce well.

“We need to get more out of palm oil and produce more. We now invited the Nigerian Institute for Oil Research (NIFOR) to help us with training to boost palm produce in Rivers State by aiming at quality for export through best quality seedlings to meet international market which is full of competition.
“We got NIFOR, the Nigerian Stored Products Research Institute (NSPRI), and farmers’ groups to brainstorm on how best to handle this and get best use. The wonderful thing about oil palm is that no part of it is a waste, but you have to get it right and get best quality for the farmers. This way, we boost the gross domestic product (GDP) for Nigeria.”

The Rivers State chairman of the Oil Palm Growers Association (OPGAN), Erasmus Chukundah who is also the director-general of the Port Harcourt City Chamber, lamented the consistent neglect of smallholder oil palm growers in the state.
Chukundah said the most regrettable was when a World Bank fund sent to boost oil palm production in the state was allowed to rot in the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) vaults until it was returned to them in 2018. He also mentioned some 10,000 ha of land identified for massive oil palm plantations which he said was never utilised.

NEPC regional coordinator, Ahmid Ganiyu (middle), flanked on the left by Rivers State OPGAN chairman, Erastus Chukundah, and on immediate right

 

Giving a background, Chukundah said the state’s oil palm scheme RISONPALM (Rivers State Oil Palm scheme) now has 6000 hectares of land in its headquarters and 600 ha in Bori plantation. He said the state government handed RISONPALM over to SIAT in 2011. “It is a fully integrated plantation from planting to milling and sales and export of olein (Palm olein is the liquid fraction obtained during fractionation of palm oil, which involves crystallisation under controlled temperature and removal of crystals by filtration).

He said palm oil is less in circulation because SIAT refines their products and exports (olein) them, creating need to scale up production. The hope for this, he said, is in smallholder farmers who he said have been neglected over the decades. “There is provision for them in RISONPALM but that provision is not implemented. Small holder farmers hold 2.1m hectares in Nigeria and this gives a 70:30 ratio in favour of small holder farmers.”

He said OPGAN members in Rivers State have 20,000 ha of lands and have cultivated 13,000 ha in 35 to 45 clusters. “Association system failed the government, so the cooperative system came to replace it. Rivers OPGAN has 6,000 farmers as at today. “The World Bank fund came to help but after staying in the CBN account waiting for the state to be ready, it was taken back in 2018.

“The CBN has trained 1000 oil palm farmers in the state. Some of us have made personal efforts to transform the oil palm economy in Rivers State. In 2021, I brought N700m to the state; N400m went to oil palm while N300m went to SMEs. We have established 10 cottage industries in the oil palm sector; the CBN scored us highest in all of Nigeria.

“Farmers took it up to revitalise the oil palm industry without any state government support.
We have planted 1000 ha. Investors have come to partner with us in oil palm furniture company. It will soon begin.”

He said the Partnership Initiative for Niger Delta (PIND) has very much helped the Rivers farmers in training.
He also commended NEPC for consistent support and training for export. “They are going to take most of our needs because we want to export.”

In his deep presentation, a research officer with NIFOR, Joseph Osuobeni, said quality of seedling and strict production process are the only steps that can make oil palm economy fight back into international competition.

He appealed to farmers to stay with NIFOR to ensure integrity of seedlings and the entire processes.

In his presentation, the zonal coordinator of NSPRI in PH, Awagu Emenike PhD, said much research has gone into finding the best processing methods for palm oil. He appealed to farmers to follow processing strictly to get international grades.