Business Features

Repositioning Nigeria’s oil palm sub-sector: The Solidaridas’ approach

By Adelola Amihere

Following the death of his father, Oyama had to take over his father’s oil palm plantation in one of the villages in Obubra local government area in Nigeria’s South South Cross River state.

His father never harvested more than 2.4 tonnes per hectare from his planation. However, through an intervention by an international organisation in the development of oil palm in which Oyama applied the knowledge from the training, his yield has greatly improved over the years as he currently harvests about 7tonnes per hectare; a far cry from his fathers’ thus increasing his income and improving livelihood not just for him and his immediate family but for some of his extended family who depend on him.

Oyamas’ story, like many other small holder oil palm growers in the south of Nigeria is just as positive and provides a glimpse of hope, an opportunity for Nigeria to revert back as world’s number one in palm oil production.

This move at changing the oil palm sub sector narrative has been attributed largely to the interventions of Solidaridad West Africa, through a number of interventions like its Sustainable West Africa Palm Oil Programme (SWAPP) and currently, its National Initiatives for Sustainable and Climate Smart Oil Palm Smallholders (NISCOPS)in West Africa programme.

NISCOPS is a five-year programme funded by the Government of the Netherlands. it kicked off in 2019 and is being implemented in six states of Nigeria with Solidaridad handling Akwa Ibom, Cross River, Enugu and Kogi states and its partner IDH handling Edo and Ondo states.

Until 1965, Nigeria was the world leading producer and exporter of palm oil. In 1961, palm oil production from Africa, the bulk of which come from Nigeria, constituted over 70% of total world production. Currently Nigeria still ranks first as the producer in Africa and fifth in the world after Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Colombia. However, there still exists a huge demand for palm oil internally.

According to Central Bank of Nigeria’s Governor, Dr Godwin Emefiele, over 500million dollars was spent annually in the importation of palm oil.

At a two day ‘Workshop and Policy Dialogue: Pathways to inclusive policies and climate resilient oil palm development in Nigeria’ organized by Solidaridad West Africa (SWA) recently in Abuja which had in attendance policy makers, staff of the legislature and key officials of front-line oil palm farmers’ organizations in the country, stakeholders lamented that the oil palm sector has nose-dived from its glory days despite being produced in 25 states of Nigeria. For them, the oil palm sub sector has not been sufficiently tapped to effectively contribute to the economic growth of Nigeria.

In his presentation, Executive Director, Nigeria Institute for Oil Palm Research (NIFOR), Dr Ikuenobe said the National refining capacity is largely underutilised due to the quality of palm oil produced by the small and medium holders and only a few private investors are presently involved o an industrial scale in Nigeria.

He noted that some of the challenges bedevilling oil palm development are “difficulty in acquiring large tracts of land due to the land tenure system, huge capital outlay of plantation establishment, weak rural infrastructure, low economies of scale of production among smallholdings, and unorganized nature of production.

“Other challenges include aging plantations and low rate of replanting, poor agronomic management leading to poor yields and income in many holdings, inefficient processing among small-scale producers and ageing milling/processing equipment among medium and large plantations, low level of mechanization of field operationsInadequate extension services.

In his own presentation, Dr Samson Ogallah, Senior Climate Specialist-Africa Technical Lead, Nigeria explained that under the NISCOPS programme, climate smart approach to oil palm development means “optimizing the productivity of existing plantations while preparing for and adapting to potential climate stresses both biotic and abiotic reducing emissions through recycling biomass waste, reducing fuel consumption and refraining from expanding in high carbon stock areas in balance with nature.

According to him, the climate smart approach is anchored on three goals. The first goal which is productivity looks at sustainable ways to improve oil palm plantations. These include replanting aging plantations, clearing weed and rubbish, pruning, regular harvesting planting cover crops, applying EFB compost fertilizer amongst others.

The second goal which is adaptation looks at enhancing resilience to changing climate conditions such as temperature and rainfall through informed plantation establishment, water management and erosion preventive measure. Controlling pests, diseases and pollination by regular checks and maintaining clean plantation.

The third is mitigation which handles three different phases of land use, growth cycle and transport and processing.

Through these, Solidaridad West Africa is gradually changing the narrative of the oil palm sector. But it is not yet uhuru for the sector as the outcome of the workshop showed that a lot of work largely on the side of government with reference to rejigging existing policies as well as making new ones is still needed to be done. First, to achieving self-sufficiency in meeting local demand and also meeting foreign demand through export as a way of growing the nations economy.

Sharing the same sentiments, Deputy Director, Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, Bernard Okata, said, “Our current local requirement for oil generally is about three million metric tonnes but we are producing about 1.02 metric tonnes of oil palm.

“So, there is a gap. We import to make up for this gap and Nigeria is spending about $500m annually for this importation up till now.”

Consequent upon this, the outcome of the communique issued at the end of the workshop highlighted the challenges and recommended a number of measures for government to take address the lingering challenges identified.

Some of the challenges observed include that research has not been given adequate attention due to poor funding of NIFOR, which has the mandate for oil palm research to enable the sub-sector to contribute its quota to Nigeria’s economic diversification drive as well as job creation; the absence of inclusive budgeting, and the delay in the release of funds affects project delivery and impact with long term negative implications for the oil palm sub-sector and the interventions in the oil palm sub-sector have not sufficiently addressed the adoption of best management practices (BMP) and sustainable land use (SLU) practices that will halt degradation of the ecosystem and biodiversity loss.

Other challenges observed were socio-cultural practices incompatible with natural justice, equity, and good conscience continue to impede on the ownership and access to productive assets in the oil palm value chain, especially practices negatively affecting women, youth and persons with disabilities; the contractual arrangement between big oil palm companies and smallholder farmers continues to be exploitative and haven’t yielded adequate and sustainable benefits the smallholder farmers; the seasonality and time-bound nature of agricultural activities have not been aligned with existing agricultural procurement processes which hitherto have been too cumbersome and should be simplified among others.

To this end, stakeholders at the workshop recommended a number of actions to include that government and the private sector should promote climate resilient interventions that would increase an inclusive use of technology and the adoption of BMP and SLU in the sub-sector, promote Research-Farmers Linkages through increased funding to NIFOR and other research institutions.

Financial Institutions and private investors should actively fund the sub-sector for increased productivity and by extension promote policy direction towards a palm oil driven economy.

Government should deliberately dedicate a minimum of 60% of the Agriculture budget (Oil Palm) to capital projects to encourage diversification of the economy.

There should be a dedicated oil palm development fund. Hence, government should use 20% of the 35% tariff on importation of fats and oils to improve productivity in the oil palm sector

Government should strengthen its monitoring and evaluation systems on all allocation approved for the sub-sector to ensure effective implementation of its activities and ensure that financial services of single digit interest rates should be provided to smallholder oil palm farmers to motivate increased productivity in the sector.

It is expected that this effort by Solidardiad to support the agricultural transformation agenda of the federal government as well as respective state governments in order to encourage more farmers to embrace the oil palm intervention programme of the organisation.

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