October 14, 2013

Investment is cornerstone of development — Asemota

 Dr. Omorefe Asemota, Executive Director, Nigerian Institute for Oil Palm Research (NIFOR), Benin-City recently host selected Agriculture journalists who are fellows of the Biosciences for Farming in Africa (B4FA).The University of Ife graduate of Biology in the chat with the fellows pointed out that research is important but for any meaningful break through to be made that there is need to invest in reaserch.He also spoke on the efforts of the institute in meeting the four million sprouted seeds needed by the Federal Government to boost oil Palm production under the Agriculture Transformation Agenda. Here is an excerpt as captured by JIMOH BABATUNDE

On importance of research and investment  
I want to emphasis here that research is important, but investment is the cornerstone of development. The truth of the matter is, we have had major research contributions to the crops, not just oil palm, but oil palm more than all the others, but on the investment side as a country we have not been too fortunate.

But it is investment that drives the economy, you can have all the research results on the shelf but if they don’t translate to production on the fields and the farms it does not reach the people.

Our goal is to make our people realise that all these commodity crops, not just oil palm. You can say the same for dates; you can say the same for coconut, raffia and Shea. They are all profitable commodities; they are commodities that Nigerians have been exploiting for centuries.

They are commercially viable and therefore we want to appeal to our people to begin to invest. Of course, you know we talk about value chains these days. There are numbers of entry points for profitable activities.
People can be active in nursery establishment, production of planting materials; people can be active in processing, marketing. These are direct activity points.

But there are indirect activity points like the supply of inputs; these are profitable activities our people can be involved in.

On plantation development

Having said that, I just want to emphasise the point made on plantation development earlier that oil palm is recognised as a plantation crop, small holdings might be medium, might be large size, or estate but there is need for the industry to continue to grow as people continue to plant.

There is also need for our people to begin to apply technology so that they can maximise returns. It is a tragedy that we have dependent on wide plantings or rather the materials we can harvest from the wide.

As she has said, the same for the other crops, the yields are low, the returns are low, we don’t apply fertilizers, and our processing methods are poor. People tend to be discouraged, whereas, if we just do the right thing as planting improved planting materials, we apply best agronomy practices, the returns can be more than five times.

At that point, it is easy for even a small holder to pay his bill, it is easy for a woman who is trading to be economically stable and those are the things we want people to take advantage of.

To put it in perspective, one hectare of oil palm can produce three tonnes of oil per year and at current prices is at least N600, 000. If somebody was to have let say four hectares that individual gets    more than two million naira per year and that is good income by any standard.

I want our people to have this kind of information so that they will be encouraged to invest, so that we can begin to lift our people out of poverty.

As you know a lot of Nigerians live below the poverty line as defined by the MDGs and yet we have these crop commodities. The same is true for other crops I mentioned to you. This is one of the things we will want our people to get involved in.

We also like government and individuals to know that there is an ongoing agricultural transformation agenda under which the Federal Government is supplying inputs; we will like to encourage our people to take advantage of this as they relate especially to oil palm value chain.

Let the inputs being given translates to actual production in the farms, so that three to four years from now we can begin to address positively the deficits that have been there for so long.

On the difference between wide and improved seeds

The plants you find in the wide are un-improved, so in terms of yield for instance they yield anything from two to five tonnes of fresh fruits. You know when I was talking earlier, I talked about oil per hectare, but now I am talking of fresh fruits.

They yield between to 2-5 tonnes of fresh fruits, that is the bunch per hectare per year, but when you know bring in the breeding aspect, you select the improved seed.

Now for instance at the institute we are moving from the second circle of improvement to the third  circle, but at the end of our second circle of improvement the breeders have developed for us the materials that yield  between 20 and 25 tonnes of  fresh fruit bunches  per hectare per year.

Now, in the wide most of the fruits  are the Dura type which means tick shed , thin mesocap and  then little oil, but for the scientific improvement, what we give to the farmers are the tenerals.

In the wide, the palm takes about five to seven years to fruits and produce those bunches I told you about, but the improved materials as early as two and half years begin to produce.   Let me also add that there is mixture all kinds of things.

Some that are diseases resistance others that are not, but the improved materials are breed for disease resistance.

The cumulative effect of all these is that when people use un-improved materials, they have a wide array of materials on their farm, productivity is low; they are susceptible to all kind of diseases and environmental pressures.

But the improved materials are targeted    to give maximum returns to the people. Unfortunately, we have relied as a nation to tapping what is available in the wide instead of consistently using the improved materials.

Of course, our national productivity figures are low, we have a deficit, but we want this to change. So that we have consistent policies, that drive investment, as well as process that will make us to have more plantations both big and small.

On the ATA as it relates to NIFOR

In the 2012-2013 year, the Federal government us a target to produce 4 million sprouted seeds and in oil palm you have sprouted seeds from which the nurseries are raised  and therefore you have seedlings  to plant in the field.
Our assignment was to produce four million of sprouted seeds and these were to be distributed to three categories of people, to state government, to large estate and to nurseries operators. We are pleased to say that we have largely completed that.

On how the seeds were distributed

The program was designed to ensure maximum success and part of that designed was that we delivered the sprouted seeds to the users groups and we have done that within the last nine month or so. As an institute, our breeders were very conscious that we have different environment and we gave out varieties of seeds to protect the farmers against challenges, so that they don’t experience unexpected crop failure.

We have seen some cases of people who imported particular varieties and ran into problems; either all production was limited to a few months or in some cases they ran into crop losses because of disease problem.

So, we have tried to put in a safety net for our farmers by giving out good seeds.