From JUDEX OKORO, Calabar
Special Adviser to the Cross River State Government, Mr. Gerald Adah, has disclosed that investment portfolio of various companies operating in the state in the last five years has risen to about $2 billion. Adah, who made this disclosure during the inauguration of the Calaro, Ibiae and Biase Oil Palm Plantations in Akamkpa local government area, to be managed by Wilmar International Limited in collaboration with PZ Cussons, said during the period under review, over 300 companies have visited the state to prospect business.
He described the inauguration of the oil palm plantation as a major milestone in the vision of attracting foreign direct investment to the state and country. He said: “In the past two years, the state’s engagements with Wilmar has been in the aspects of acquisition of at least 50,000 hectares of agricultural land for primary production of Oil Palm, as well as the establishment of an Oil Palm Processing/Refining Facility at an estimated project cost of $400 million.
“While the proposed investment is valued at $400 million, the direct benefits accruing to the State include; employment of over 20,000 persons on an average payroll of N3.2 billion annually; Out-growers support scheme for another 20,000 hectares, leveraging on the World Bank support, Corporate-Social Responsibility in terms of standard schools and hospitals for employees, dependants and host communities,” Adah stated. Minister of Agriculture, Dr Akinwunmi Adesina, said “The federal government is concerned about changing the fortunes of agriculture and making it worthwhile business for both large and small scale investors.”
Adesina said “in the oil palm value chain many things were wrong that need the enabling environment of the government and commitment of the private sector operators to correct. “The goal of oil palm value chain of the ministry is to increase oil production to satisfy local demand and eventually export as well as to increase the productivity of farmers and create employment,” he added. Earlier in his remarks, Governor Liyel Imoke, said the inauguration of Wilmar West Africa in the state would not only transform the economy of host communities but also enhance its production of oil palm, thus making the state the largest producer of oil palm in the country.
Imoke said the agricultural sector in the country today has been much maligned over the years and plagued with a lot of challenges related to enhancing the capacity of farmers and in recognition of the need to refocus the sector in the state and to increase productivity had to shift attention to identifying and attracting meaningful and constructive investment to the sector. He said, “We in the state believe this approach is critical to the realization of our strategy as the top agrarian economy in the country as well ensuring the continued viability and sustainability of government and private estates in the state.
Our intention is create a cluster of agricultural productivity unmatched by any other state in Nigeria. The partnership between Cross River State and Wilmar is the first major result of this strategic realignment if our agricultural industry. “In recent years, we have witnessed significant increase in the global demand for oil palm. This singular commodity has a myriad of uses and applications for both domestic and industrial consumption and it accounts for a substantial proportion of the country’s agriculture production, thus leading the charge in the growth of the industry in Nigeria.”
Speaking on the project, Chairman of Wilmar International, Mr. Kuok, said “the project is part of a joint venture with PZ Cussons to revive the oil palm industry in Nigeria, by investing in the entire palm oil value chain, including plantation, palm oil mill, refinery, among others.” He said, “This country has the market, land, labour and climatic condition to develop very successful large scale palm oil industry. Our vision is to together with PZ Cussons help build deliver a world class palm oil industry and plantation and processing plant as good as the best in Indonesia and Malaysia.
“Such a project would bring enormous benefit to the country by creating employment and saving tremendous foreign exchange. So far we have acquired 35, 000 hectares of land and we would complete the development in about four years. We are willing to develop as much land as the government can give us and we will develop it at a speed and quality that has never been seen before. “We also assure the government and all concerned parties that we would do the development in compliance with all sustainability requirements.”
On his part, the Chairman PZ Cussons, Prof Emmanuel Edozien, said, “Today we are witnessing an important milestone in our national investment drive that would stimulate economic diversification, agricultural transformation and rural based economic development. The investment in Calaro, Ibiae and Biase oil palm plantations, is part of a new joint partnership venture between PZ Cussons and Wilmar International of Singapore and aims to harness our God given natural resources in Nigeria and actualize the collective dream of strong local contents and far reaching backward integration that would conserve precious foreign exchange earnings and create rural employment.
“Furthermore the investment has brought in the much needed direct foreign investment and would entrench current laudable changes in our agricultural methods and farm practises geared towards international standards. This would be beneficial to the local communities while also ensuring attractive returns from capital to the investors. It is indeed a catalyst par excellence for agricultural transformation.”