Agriculture is the traditional occupation of the Nigerian people, he writes. Prior to the discovery and consequent exploration of mineral oil in the country, the economy of the nation stood on the tripod of palm oil, cocoa and groundnut production. These cash crops were produced not just for subsistence but also for export. While the south east region produced palm oil, the south west was into cocoa production and the north was well known for its groundnut pyramids. Each of the regions was doing well in its area of strength and the country was already on its way to economic independence.
The young people preferred to look for white collar jobs instead of engaging in farm work. The government on its part was more concerned with the wealth coming in from crude mineral oil to bother about providing incentives to encourage agriculture. Being ignorant of the great potentials of palm oil, the people threw away their chance of earning an enviable place in the great economies of the world. Currently, Malaysia which came here to learn about palm oil production is the world's number one producer and exporter of crude palm oil, closely followed by Indonesia. Having discovered the unparalleled productivity and huge benefits of investing in palm oil production, reports indicate that currently almost half of Malaysia's cultivated land consists of oil palm.
In 2004, according to reports, Indonesia cultivated oil palm plantations which covered 5.3 hectares of land. These plantations generated 11.4 million metric tons of palm oil with an export value of US$ 4.43 billion and brought in $42.4 million to the Indonesian treasury. Of course since then, the value of the product has continued to climb, making it almost competitive to petroleum.
Now the basic questions are; why has palm oil become the world's number one fruit crop? Why the sudden surge in the demand for palm oil? How did something Nigerians, nay Igbo threw aside become so valued in the world market? Well, apart from being a major ingredient for food, palm oil has other myriad uses. It is used in cosmetics production and more importantly one of the raw materials in biodiesel production. According to experts, biodiesels are biodegradable and, when burned, have fewer emissions than petroleum-based fuels. Thus, biodiesels are being looked upon as possible alternative energy source:
energy :: sustainability :: biomass :: bioenergy :: biofuels :: palm oil :: agriculture :: poverty alleviation :: petroleum :: South-South :: China :: Imo :: Nigeria ::
Because of this development, environmentalists have been supportive of biofuels and other world bodies have voted for the idea of reducing dependence on Middle East oil since many biodiesel crops can be grown in friendly territories. With this in mind, policymakers from Asia and Europe have shown interest and have made a major push to promote and adopt biofuels. These developments have all contributed to increased investment in palm oil production.
To cash in on this, Indonesia has reportedly announced that it intends to double its oil palm crude production by 2025. Under a 2005 investment proposal, prepared by the State Plantation Corporation PT Perkenuan Nusantara (PTPN), Indonesia would develop about 1.8 million hectares of land for palm plantation. China would be involved in the plan, reportedly investing $7.5 billion in energy and infrastructure projects, including providing capital for palm oil plantations. The project is expected to employ nearly 400,000 people and generate an annual inflow of $45 million in tax revenue to the state.
Despite these, oil palm is not native to Asia. It is native to Igboland but what have we gained from it? In one word, nothing. Not because the palm tree has refused to yield its precious oil to us but because we have neglected a veritable source of revenue in our pursuit of the easy money. Our over dependence on mineral oil has not done even half of what palm oil has done for Malaysia and Indonesia. The country has continued to tether on the brink of collapse as the Niger Deltans battle the rest of the country for the control of oil exploration rights. Today, if they sneeze the whole country catches cold.
Knowing the dangers inherent in depending on the crude mineral oil, and having become aware of the great potentials and investment opportunities of palm oil, the knowledgeable in the land are poised to reverse the trends in agriculture. The government of Chief Ikedi Ohakim of Imo state is one of those who have decided to take a plunge in what comes natural to our land - investment in palm oil production. In the draft presentation of the Imo State Oil Palm Development Programme (ISODEP), the government declared that it is set to claim for the state the number one position in oil palm production in the country.
The vision of ISODEP is to create an alternative economic revenue base and lay a solid foundation for agric-business in Imo state as part of the millennium development goals critical objectives. The programme also seeks to reawaken the consciousness of Imo people to the nativity of palm tree and use the palm tree as a start-up tool for the clean and green initiative of the state government.
Under the programme, the state government seeks to raise and distribute four million tenera oil palm for planting through small holder's management unit in every community in the state within a four-year period. The government is also set to produce palm oil cluster centres and establish semi-automated oil mills in each nucleus in the 27 local government areas in the state. Ultimately however, Ohakim's government sees in the programme an avenue to significantly reduce poverty, enhance rural community development and create employment opportunities for the citizens. The government is also hopeful that this foundation project if handled well would attract foreign investment into the state's agriculture sector.
Announcement of the ISODEP by Longer S. Anyanwu, Imo State Ministry of Agriculture
You know that when we were small children, we were taught at school that palm tree is a native of Imo land through the visionary leadership of Dr M..I. Okpara but today after 48 years of existence of most of these trees, the yielding ability and the potentiality of these trees have now reduced to 75%. Malaysia we were told came here to collect palm fruit, today they are number one. So my policy thrust here is to ensure that at the end of 2011, this ministry would have carefully implemented a policy called ISODEP (Imo State Oil Palm Development Programme) which targets to achieve four million palm trees by the year 2011.
Commencing from 2008, I’m collaborating with the Malaysians and NIFOR [Nigerian Institute for Oil Palm Research] to get a high-breed specie of palm fruits called Tenera which is the fastest yielding, most productive palm tree in the world today of which the species from Malaysia has been proven to start yielding at the age of one year, six months. And Nigeria has produced one at NIFOR, that starts yielding in two and half years. So we are going to have the combination of the two so that by the year 2011, we can hit our chest and look back and said that we are proud to be the leader in this area.
And today, my governor told me that some experts in China and Malaysia who contacted us said that even the fallen trees that are no longer economically viable should not be thrown away, because we can recycle them to produce plywood. This is the blueprint that was presented to the governor, and it made his day.
This is the vision, the mission, the goals, I have mapped out and I have given myself target, week by week. Every day I come to this office, I ask myself what I have done on my ISODEP. We’re collaborating with the UNDP, NDDC, and other oil companies to realise this big project of ensuring the reclamation of four million palms tress. Do you know the beauty of it? I’m going to use the communities and the local government.
And by the time we charge every local governments every community to plant a minimum of fifty thousand palm seedlings, there is going to be a competition. And then this ministry is going to build semi-automated oil mills in those areas that will be managed by private entrepreneurs through special skills, low scheme arrangement. And I will tell you that by the time we finish the implementation of this programme, Imo State will be another self sustaining state in this country.
I want to also tell you that we are encouraging the youths to embrace agriculture and farming because the attitude people have toward agriculture is wrong, that it’s a job for jobless or for the aged. I’m now using young people at school. At the end of every academic session, the graduating students from secondary school, that are SSS 3 students born of Imo state, will emerge a stake holder by a token of a presentation of a palm tree by the government.
The principals of their respective schools will give them the palm tress to give to their parents and that automatically qualifies the student to be a stake holder in the state. The whole idea is that in three years the tree would have matured and began to germinate forth seeds, thereafter the student may wish to ask the government for another token. If this exercise is taken seriously by that child in future he may end up paying part of his/her school fees from the proceeds of the tree. And it’s the only way we can refocus the youth towards developing agriculture in lmo state.
Despite these laudable objectives however, the programme would not be a piece of cake to implement, especially knowing the disdain the young people in the state have for farming. Also, ignorance concerning the marketability of palm oil will have to be erased from the minds of the citizens before any major breakthrough could be made for without the full participation of the people the project will not have the effect government is projecting. Also, how prepared is government to establish the oil mills to ease the burden and hard work associated with palm oil production seeing that it was a main reason for the quick abandonment of the business at the first sign of an alternative way of making a living?
Commenting on the development, the state's commissioner for agriculture and natural resources, Chief Longers Anyanwu said government is willing to do all it takes to ensure the success of the programme. He said plans for the establishment of the mills had already reached advanced stage.
He disclosed that the state government plans to encourage youth participation by using secondary school students to distribute the palm seedlings. And to express its desire to see that the programme succeeds, the commissioner said all the executive members of Ohakim's government have been mandated to plant about 1000 palm seedlings as their contribution and as a sign of government's commitment to the revitalisation of oil palm production in the state.
The commissioner said it was also in government's plan to replace all the old and wild palm trees in the state with the improved species of tenera to ensure high production of palm oil for export purposes. In this regard, the association of oil palm producers in the state have declared their readiness to partner with government in its march to inject life into the business of palm oil production. Speaking on the renewed interest of government in palm oil production,Bernard Emecheta said government's plan is a welcome development and expressed confidence that they are capable of seeing it through.
He said palm oil production declined because of continued government neglect and the inability of the local producers to get any form of incentive from the government. He expressed regret over the fate of the state-owned Adapalm; an oil palm plantation company which he said has been in steady decline through poor management and government neglect. 'If a big company like Adapalm which used to record huge revenue for the state government could be allowed to waste away like that what do private palm oil producers have in government being interested in our affairs?' He remarked that with this renewed interest by government in palm oil production, the state has a good chance of at least increasing its internally generated revenue as well as curb the raging unemployment among the youth.
Already the state is collaborating with the Nigerian Agip company to realise this revolution. At a meeting held recently at the company's headquarters in Port Harcourt, the oil giants asked the state ministry of agriculture and natural resources to design a plan of action for that purpose. The company has in principle approved the erection of an administrative block and nursery sheds to support government in its bid to revitalise the oil palm sector. In this connection, Chief Anyanwu has already swung into action by providing a plot of land for the immediate take off of the projects. Discussions are also underway with Shell Petroleum Development Company for purposes of assisting government achieve its dream in this same direction.
Hopefully the 'new face of Imo' as the Ohakim government delights to be called will not go the way of previous governments in the state who only pay lip service to developmental issues. Palm oil production as other countries have discovered is big business, big enough to save this country from the heart ache of incessant unrest in the Niger Delta. All it requires really is leadership that is capable of trusting in its ability to bring about positive change. It's all about reorientation of the mind of the local populace that palm oil business is as good as mineral oil bunkering but without the hazards associated with the later.
Vanguard: 4 million trees coming to restore Nigeria’s oil palm glory — ANYANWU [*.pdf] - October 7, 2007.
This Day (Lagos) (via AllAfrica): Palm Oil Production As Linchpin to Imo Agric Revolution - December 3, 2007.
The Nigerian Institute for Oil Palm Research.