The unbridled importation of palm kernel and allied palm products is threatening the Federal Government’s campaign for the diversification of the economy through increased agricultural production and exports.
The imports are harming the local palm industry and depleting our foreign reserve. They are also threatening the viability of the industry into which many Nigerians have sunk huge sums of money in support of the government’s export promotion drive.
The time has come for government to protect this industry by checking unnecessary imports. The way to go is to support the local palm industry as it has the capacity to meet the country’s requirement for palm products, especially palm kernel for the local soap industry. The earlier our palm producers are encouraged and we start producing enough palm oil/palm kernel oil for our domestic needs and exports, the better for the economy.
It is ironical that Malaysia, which is widely believed to have collected its first palm seedlings from Nigeria some decades ago, is now exporting palm oil products to us. The government must reverse this trend with copious investments in the local palm industry and the protection of local producers from unnecessary imports. We have the land and the manpower to become a formidable force in oil palm production. Our objective should be to go back to our pre-independence status in oil palm production. We have no business importing palm kernel or any oil palm product from any country.
At independence, agriculture was the mainstay of Nigeria’s economy. More than 70 per cent of the population was engaged in agriculture. Apart from various food crops produced in the country, Nigeria was a major producer of palm oil/kernel, cocoa, groundnut and rubber, among others. But, following the discovery of crude oil in commercial quantity in the 1970s, agriculture was neglected while attention was shifted to unbridled importation of agricultural products, including palm oil/ palm kernel oil.
The worrisome aspect of this problem is that despite the calls for the diversification of the economy through agriculture, Nigeria still imports palm oil and even palm kernel from Malaysia and Indonesia for our soap and health industries. While Nigeria produces 40 per cent of its palm oil requirements, it imports about 60 per cent. The demand for palm kernel oil for commercial and industrial use has increased tremendously, hence its huge importation, which should be controlled to grow the local industry. Allowing uncontrolled importation of palm kernel oil for manufacturing of soaps, creams and other cosmetic products will discourage its local production. Nigeria’s oil belt region is large enough to produce the needed palm oil/palm kernel oil for local use and export.
Developing the oil palm industry is one of the ways that Nigeria can reduce poverty and create mass employment. The government should, therefore, encourage the development of this important cash crop, which significantly contributed to the economy of the defunct Eastern Region of Nigeria during the First Republic. For the country to attain the desirable status of the world’s largest producer of palm oil and its derivative product, palm kernel oil, it is necessary to mechanise its production, embrace high yielding varieties and support massive development of oil palm plantations across the country’s oil palm belt.
The local and state governments should make land available to oil palm farmers for massive production of palm oil and palm kernel oil. This way, the scarce foreign exchange used to import palm oil and palm kernel oil will be diverted to other uses. It is interesting that oil palm value chain activities are going on in some of the country’s palm oil producing states. Some of these states include Abia, Akwa Ibom, Cross River, Rivers, Bayelsa, Imo and Anambra. Others are Ebonyi, Enugu, Delta, Edo, Ondo and Ogun. This list is by no means exhaustive. If the oil palm industry is fully developed, it will guarantee mass employment and boost our foreign exchange earnings. The oil palm is a versatile product with very useful by-products.
Therefore, government must ensure that the sector is fully developed and its potential tapped for the economic benefit of the country. It should protect the oil palm industry by restricting importation of palm oil/palm kernel oil before more harm is done to the industry and the economy.