By Gabriel Ewepu
AS the country continues to grapple with economic recession, an international agricultural development organisation, Solidaridad West Africa, said oil palm development can diversify the economy to generate foreign exchange.
The Regional Director, Solidaridad West Africa, Isaac Gyamfi, said this at a workshop organised by the organisation in collaboration with other stakeholders in the oil palm sector in Abuja.
The workshop with a theme, ‘Harnessing the Potential of Nigeria’s Oil Palm Sector: Benefiting from the Results and Lessons of Sustainable West African Oil Palm Programme (SWAPP), aims at restoring the lost glory of the oil palm industry in the sub-region.
Gyamfi who decried the state of Nigeria’s oil palm industry, which has made the country to be one of the highest importer of the product, said the country currently imports 552,000 mt of palm oil to augment the 970,000 mt being produced by farmers.
He also disclosed that Solidaridad West Africa, through its SWAPP programme, has worked with independent smallholder farmers in Cross River State, and recently, in Akwa Ibom State, to increased from 2.7 tons per hectare per year to 18 tons per hectare per year in 2016, according to best management practices, which include approach to oil palm cultivation involves creating field access, pruning, ground cover management, fertilizer application and regular harvesting.
He said, “Nigeria’s oil palm industry is often cited as one of the most untapped economic opportunities in Africa. The boom of black gold (crude oil) in the mid-seventies spelled a downturn for palm oil business, as many operators neglected the industry to feed fat on crude oil revenues.
“But now that the global price of crude oil is volatile, the role that the oil palm industry can play in diversifying the economy cannot be over-emphasised. The domestic palm oil produced in 2016 was 970,000 metric tons while consumption stood at 1.57 million, which allowed importation of 600,000 mt of Crude Palm Oil, CPO, to bridge the demand gap. This has been happening for the past two decades.
“Nigeria has the potential to be a net exporter of oil palm products instead of the current state where the country currently imports 552,000 mt of palm oil to augment the 970,000 mt being produced. Alternatively, if all the current 600,000 hectares under cultivation could yield 18 tons per hectare, per year and processed at 18percent oil extraction rate, Nigeria would move from being importer of palm oil to net exporter of palm oil.”