By Henry Umoru
THE Senate, Tuesday day asked the Federal Government to accelerate its policies on the diversification of the economy if the Country’s foreign exchange earnings must be improved on.
According to the Senate, it has become very imperative for the Federal Government to accelerate the support for improved production of palm oil to meet not only domestic needs of the market, but also increase exports in order to improve forex earnings;
The Senate has also urged the Federal Government to revive the moribund Nigerian Institute for Oil Palm Research (N IFOR), in Benin to improve investment in research and production of quality oil palm seeds.
Resolutions of the Senate were a sequel to a motion entitled, “Urgent need to revive the Palm Oil industry in Nigeria” by Senator Onyewuchi Ezenwa Francis (Imo East) and co-sponsored by 15 others.
In his presentation, Senator Onyewuchi Ezenwa said that the Senate “Notes that before the oil boom in the mid-1970s, agriculture was the mainstay of Nigeria’s economy. In fact, in the 1950s and 1960s, Nigeria was the largest producer and exporter of palm oil, controlling close to 40 per cent of the global market share;
“Also Notes that the discovery of crude oil in commercial quantity paved the way for the gradual neglect of agriculture by successive governments. As a result of this neglect, palm oil production has fallen to a meagre 1.7 per cent, which is inadequate for local consumption. As of today, countries like Malaysia and Indonesia are now the top producers of palm oil after getting their seeds and learning how to cultivate oil palm from Nigeria.”
According to him, the Senate “Observes that the importance of palm oil in cooking and as an industrial raw material cannot be overemphasized. The commodity continues to be in very high demand in Nigeria and beyond. While the current domestic production stands at 970,000 metric tonnes per annum, the demand is put at 2.7 million metric tonnes yearly). This means that, de3pite the scarcity of foreign exchange, the country has to get the shortfall through import
“Recalls that as far back as 1964, the government had established a flagship research institute the Nigerian Institute for Oil Palm Research (NIFOR) to expand the frontiers of research and practice in oil palm production and utilization. The institute has the mandate to conduct research into improved varieties of oil palm seedling for commercial production. Sadly, NIFOR is being limited in its effort to revolutionize the oil palm sector due to poor funding and obsolete infrastructure;
“Also Recalls that in the 1950s and 1960s up to the 70s, the then Michael Okpara administration of Eastern Region took palm oil production business seriously. Back then, the government invested in Adapalm Plantation, and Oil Mills with thousands of hectares of palm estate. The late Sam Mbakwe’s administration of 1979 also managed to keep the palm oil mill afloat but this was not sustained by successive military administrations which took over the state. Today, the palm oil industry in Imo state is comatose despite its huge potentials to the state and the country as a whole;
“Aware that several stakeholders and agricultural experts have identified the development of palm oil as one way the country could diversify the economy and generate foreign exchange for development. They stress that investments in production and processing of palm oil are proven to be a veritable tool to move the economy from oil to non-oil sectors as obtained in advanced countries”
He said further that the Senate is “Worried that Nigeria Spends $500 million on oil palm importation annually despite being the largest producer and exporter of the product in the ’50s and ’60s. The country is now the net importer of palm oil, importing 400,000-600,000 MT of palm oil in order to meet its local demand. This is indefensible since she has the right weather and soil conditions suited for the growth of oil palm;
“Also Worried that the neglect of palm produce in Nigeria brings to mind the fate suffered by other cash amps, which has made it difficult for the country to achieve her set a target of diversifying the economy from the current oil~reliant status; and
“Concerned that if Nigeria refuses to harness the full potentials of the oil palm industry as an economic opportunity, it will continue to fall behind other global economies.”