Palm oil stakeholders have called for a national oil palm development policy to boost production and close Nigeria’s 1.6 million tons production gap.
This call was made at the National policy dialogue titled: ‘Achieving an economic and social-ecological resilient palm oil sector in Nigeria’, organised by IDH and Solidaridad, implementers of the National Initiatives for Sustainable and Climate-Smart Oil Palm Smallholders (NISCOPS) project.
Speaking at the event, Celestine Ikuenobe, former executive director of the Nigerian Institute for Oil Palm Research (NIFOR) said that production in the country has failed to meet demand due to population growth, urbanization and deforestation.
According to him, annual demand for palm oil in Nigeria currently stands at 3 million metric tons, while annual production remains low at 1.4 million metric tons.
This is because Nigeria currently spends 500 billion annually on imports to fill the deficit in production.
“We are still producing palm oil in Nigeria, we produce more than what we used to produce before, but the population has grown in Nigeria and we are getting palm oil from the same amount of land and amount of growers as before.
“In those days, we produced enough, and we could export because the uses internally were not as much as it is now, there was no noodle industry, but they exist now and require palm oil, and you know we produce more soap now than we used to produce in the 90s.
“Our population has grown tremendously, and areas that were under wild groove are now cut down, they are now cities, so those wild grove palms are no longer available, people are not even harvesting them, but now that we are cultivating plantations, they don’t even have much of cultivated plantations,” he said.
Speaking further, Ikuenobe noted that Nigeria has less than 800,000 hectares of cultivated oil palm as compared to 16.3 million hectares in Indonesia and 5.6 million hectares in Malaysia. “So you cannot compare that, even our wild groves, which we used to estimate to be about 2.1 million hectares in the 90s far less than that now with urbanization, cutting down of trees, so you cannot get more from the wild as you get from the cultivated system.”
In his remarks, Kene Onukwube, programme manager, said that the policy dialogue was aimed at spurring economic and ecological resilience in the oil sector which issues the two bane of the subsector.
According to him, the subsector has suffered a fracture since the emergence of fossil fuels in Nigeria. “So, rather than being one of the major drivers of the economy of Nigeria, the oil palm economy has been relegated to the background.
“Within that concept of social-ecological resilience, we are talking about the producers of oil palm, the marketers and all the players in the subsector; what are their positions, what are their thoughts and interests, so that their productivity increases amidst challenges of climate change risks that are affecting oil palm.
“So, we want to be able to take those two concepts simultaneously while discussing the future of oil palm, that is the basis of the policy dialogue,” he said.
In his remarks, Eniola Fabusoro, Senior Program Manager, IDH said that all hands must be on deck to promote sustainable production,climate-smartt agriculture, access to finance, regenerative practices, quality improvement, and private sector investment, in the subsector.
“What we are trying to draw the government’s attention to in the oil palm subsector is sustainability, within that,t you can now talk about several things that need to be done.
“All hands must be on deck to ensure sustainable production of oil palm, climate-smart agriculture, access to finance, regenerative practices, quality improvement, private sector investment, these are all that come into that sustainability.
“We are also looking at opening market opportunities for all the farmers and ensuring that there is a business case for everyone. What we need from the government is to provide that enabling environment. Still, trade can blossom by itself and people can engage productively among each other because there is a business case for everyone,” he said.