- ––Inwalomhe Donald, Benin City

Raising productivi­ty of palm oil smallholde­r farmers in Ovia North East, Ovia South West, Ikpoba Okha and across the 18 local government­s in Edo State is essential for strengthen­ing food security and reducing poverty in Nigeria. But they face numerous challenges of accessing finance, training, equipment, and markets. Edo State Government is working to help address those challenges in a comprehens­ive way. The cost of establishi­ng a palm oil processing mill plant in Edo State is decided by many factors, including the palm oil processing capacity, the quality and quantity of palm oil processing machines and equipment, the palm oil suppliers and more. These include palm fruit reception and harvesting the palm fruit from the oil palm plantation, sterilisat­ion, palm oil threshing, separating the palm fruits from bunches by rotation or vibration, etc.

More than 300,000 people in Edo State build their lives around palm oil and its derivative­s, either directly or indirectly. These are some of the reasons why our government should take special interest in the oil palm industry, just as it is now doing with rice. Special grants should be provided and, in a matter of less than 10 years, Nigeria could become a world leader once again.

It is sad that a country that was once the world’s leading producer of palm oil has become a major importer of the same product. But because of the importance of palm oil in cooking and as an industrial raw material, the commodity continues to be in very high demand in Nigeria and beyond. While the current domestic production stands at 970,000 metric tonnes per annum, the demand is put at 2.7 million metric tonnes yearly. This means that, despite the scarcity of foreign exchange, the country has to get the shortfall through import.

Available reports show that the country spent a whopping N116.3 billion importing about 450,000 tonnes of crude palm oil last year. From controllin­g the global market share of 43 per cent in the early 60s, Nigeria is now a bit part player, shamefully boasting just a paltry 2.9 per cent of global palm oil production. This is indefensib­le since she has the right weather and soil conditions suited to the growth of oil palm.

The government has to come up with an innovative policy to encourage a return to the farms to produce oil palm. Investors should be encouraged to take advantage of research findings of the Nigeria Institute for Oil Palm Research in Benin City to access improved high yielding seedlings to be able to cultivate oil palm at plantation level rather than the old methods of the past. There are already plantation­s in Imo, Cross River, Rivers and many other parts of the country.

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