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Self-sufficiency in Palm Oil production possible in 30 years, says Sawyerr


Palm oil

Mr. Akin Sawyerr is the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Agricultural Fresh Produce Growers And Exporters Association Of Nigeria (AFGEAN), he spoke to GBENGA AKINFENWA on steps to attaining self-sufficiency in palm oil production.

Why is the country witnessing poor palm oil production?
FLUCTUATING government agro policies and neglect of the sector, coupled with corruption in the process of getting funds across to the oil palm farmers are some of the factors impeding self-sufficiency in oil palm in the country.

We need to also know that a growing population and lack of investment in new plantations and in mechanisation would affect any industry anywhere in the world.

There has been little by way of investment or maintainable of existing stock. Trees must be pruned, and this is very hard and tedious work to do. There are easier ways for rural labourers to make money in an increasing urbanised country.

Also, when palm trees grow tall, harvesting becomes difficult. Local farmers are more unlikely to grow palm trees alongside other crops because it is very difficult for them to mix, as very little will grow under palm trees.

These farmers, who are generally poor, naturally prefer to grow crops, which can bring them quick returns, like cassava, fruits and vegetables

Why did we allow our palm oil output to drop so drastically despite the huge demand for it?

Nigeria under colonial rule was a far better organised set up. The colonial government knew exactly what was needed to grow the Commonwealth.
Palm oil was, and remains a valuable cash crop, but the nation can only benefit if the sector is properly organised.

This is what the country inherited and squandered.

How huge is the country’s annual demand for palm oil that is so difficult to meet.

I don’t have any accurate data for demand and production, but on my mind, the demand is really huge because there are industrial and domestic needs for it, and the industrial needs, which is largely unmet is causing the price to go up thereby affecting domestic needs.  

Would the ban on the importation of palm oil, palm kernel and the rest being canvassed by the National Assembly in any way address the production decline?

Yes, it would address the production decline if it’s a long term plan, but no, if its short and medium terms. The ban on importation will not solve this problem.

Most companies that import palm oil have specified grades like cholesterol level, which is difficult to meet by most of our local producers because of lack of machinery that make production fast and in large quantities. 

What do you think needs to be done by farmers, processors, government and other stakeholders to bolster the production of palm oil?

Government should make land accessible for farmers in areas where palm trees thrive well. Young people should be encouraged and motivated to go into agriculture and bank facilities should be provided and within reach of those who are true farmers not pen farmers. To achieve this, banks should focus on co-operatives and unions.

Sincerity of the government to make things work must be guaranteed. If that happens, it will go down the value chain. And a lot of Nigerians see government financial support for business as a way to steal money so government’s financial support should only be given to serious and trustworthy people. It starts and ends with the government. 

Do you foresee Nigeria achieving self-sufficiency soon? Like what year are we looking at?

Yes, in the next 30 years. 

If the right things are done, how much do you think the country can rake-in as revenue from the export of palm oil like in the 1960s?

Hundreds of billions of naira would come in as revenue, because manpower and technology is available. All that is left is sincerity of purpose.

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Mr. Akin SawyerrPalm oil
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