Oil Palm Expert and Consultant/Adviser to the Plantation Owners Forum of Nigeria (POFON), Alhaji Fatai Afolabi has harped on the importance of the oil palm industry to the nation’s economy, stating that the industry can be projected as a foreign exchange earner for the country.
According to the POFON Adviser, the government should open the industry to the big players in the agricultural space to expand the production and processing capacity while incorporating smallholders.
Afolabi, who currently is a member of the Agriculture and Food Security Steering Committee, Nigeria Economic Summit Group (NESG), gave this recommendation during a media chat in Lagos.
The oil palm expert also stressed that developing the oil palm sector would lay the foundation for inclusiveness and competitiveness, adding that Nigeria should be looking at being a major exporter of oil palm.
He said, “Oil palm in Nigeria can be turned around, by projecting it as a foreign exchange earner and saver.
“Inclusion is fundamental to the design and implementation of any development project. Excluding major players cannot enable decisions to be made, on what will impact them, and on what they will be part of.
“Today’s agriculture is stakeholder-based and driven, especially in the oil palm sector. When Nigeria was the world’s major producer of oil palm, the sector was driven by smallholders, as it is, today too. This makes it different from the Malaysian model”.
Afolabi also gave an insight into the current situation of oil palm, stating that its production had been on the high side especially with the influx of new players in the sub-sector.
“There has also been a considerable increase in the number of new entrants at the corporate level. These entrants have begun to set new records, in terms of planting 4000 to 5000 hectares in their first two years of operations.
“Also, old players like Okomu and Presco, have attained planting of 4000 to 5000 hectares annually. Plantation owners like Okomu, Presco, Wilmar and JB farms [indigenous], have expanded their plantation areas and processing facilities, which are indicators of expansion in the industry.
“Smallholder groups are also increasing their level of production. Also, states not in the traditional oil palm belt are beginning to join in the oil palm production, such as Kogi, Nasarawa, Kwara and Plateau”.
The POFON Adviser further called on the government to institutionalise the oil palm sub-sector and create a separate council that would manage its affairs.
He also advised that the government look beyond the shores of the country and embrace partnerships that would accelerate the development of the industry.
“There is no oil palm policy in Nigeria for now. To develop our oil palm industry, there must be objectives and targeted milestones that should be known. Drafts of such an agenda must be available also for comments. Stakeholders will then be brought together to adopt it as their agenda.
“In the committee of oil palm producing nations, Nigeria is the only country, where institutional responsibility of oil palm resides in FMARD [Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development].
“Malaysia [for instance], has an oil palm board and also an oil palm council, which coordinates all activities in the oil palm industry.
“It’s high time we have a Nigerian Oil Palm Council which will manage the policy, production, trade and everything relating to oil palm.
“Nigeria should also look beyond our shores and promote partnerships that will bring accelerated development. Okomu, Presco and Wilmar are foreign companies [we can partner with].
“We can also encourage Malaysian companies to come and develop the upstream and downstream of our oil palm industry,” he urged.
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