Uche Usim, Abuja
A concerted effort to end oil palm importation and locally grow the crop on a large-scale basis has kicked off, with the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) allocating an initial N30 billion for the project, which it said is already being disbursed to beneficiary farmers in identified states.
As a result, the apex bank has closed all import windows for oil palm and its derivatives, warning recalcitrant importers and smugglers to prepare to have their accounts blocked, amid other consequences, if they do not halt dumping the product in Nigeria.
Speaking in Abuja at the fifth stakeholders meeting of the Nigeria’s Oil Palm Industry Development Initiative, the CBN Governor, Mr Godwin Emefiele said the major economic thrust of ending oil palm importation and growing local production was to create jobs, earn huge foreign exchange via exports, grow the nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and create wealth in rural communities in Nigeria.
According to him, the aggressive oil palm production programme is encapsulated in a presidential directive that mandates the CBN to end the importation of nine other crops that can be cultivated locally on a large-scale basis. He listed the major states involved in the oil palm production project as; Akwa Ibom, Cross River, Delta, Edo, Abia and Imo.
Emefiele said: “The Presidential directive is not on palm oil alone but ten other products namely rice, maize, cassava, tomatoes, cotton, poultry, fish, livestock, dairy and cocoa.
“So, those who think they want to hide under certain Customs agents code to bring in what they call hydrogenated vegetable fats, we will catch all of them. PRESCO, PZ OKOMU and others have all those hydrogenated vegetable fats. They can’t sell them, yet some unscrupulous persons prefer to import them with scarce foreign exchange. It is not going to happen again. If we find you, you are going to be in trouble.
“The presidential directive that we received says we must expand, and seek to give support to people who want to expand production of these products in Nigeria.
Another part of that presidential directive also says we should blacklist from the foreign exchange market and the banking industry, all firms, their owners and their top management caught smuggling or dumping any of the restricted 43 items in Nigeria”.
The CBN Governor assured the oil palm stakeholders that no stone will be left unturned in realizing the goals of the directive as its officials have been directed to pursue it audaciously.
He added: “We are going to work very aggressively on this mandate. Our economic intelligence department has started investigating those who are involved in smuggling palm oil into Nigeria and before any action is taken against you in terms of blocking you from the foreign exchange market or blacklisting you from doing banking in Nigeria, we need to inform you that we are drawing a line that importation of oil palm must stop. But stopping it also means that we must as Central Bank and the deposit money bank also create an opportunity for you to access credit to grow your plantations.
“We know Customs are doing their best in policing the forests but the smugglers have their unscrupulous ways of still smuggling oil palm into the country. But I want to assure you we have our own way of identifying those who are smuggling oil palm and we will block their accounts.
“We must create jobs and wealth in our rural communities. Rather than their lands being taken away from them, we will encourage them. If really we are desirous in creating jobs and capitalising the economy through expansion of agricultural productivity in all parts of the country that mean we must go back to palm oil.
The next phase will be those who are coming into oil palm production business new; just walk in through your banks and we will also extend credit facilities to them and we will also have the out growers scheme programmes as well”.
Emefiele said land, enzymes, fertilizer and other needed inputs will be made available to farmers and that CBN will also help determine how much loans will be required by the farmers.
He assured that the moratorium period will be long, easy and flexible.
“Until oil palm starts fruiting, which takes an average of two and a half to three years, you won’t start repayment. If you have a 25-year life span for oil palms, you can imagine what you will make after the first five years till the plant is due for replanting in the next 25 years” he noted.
Also speaking at the event, Edo state Governor, Godwin Obaseki said his state is going into oil palm production from a broad spectrum approach. “We are looking at policy, finance, infrastructure, security, etc. What we are doing with CBN interventions are many. We held a session with stakeholders on land issue. We have 118,000 hectares of land available for this crop. We are working on how to acquire land and sort out charges and title issues.
“We will hold a land summit on July 15, to meet landowners and by 30th, we would have concluded with investors and issues they may raise sorted out. We will sort out water, access roads, electricity etc for the areas the oil palm will be cultivated. We will look at land preparation mechanism, planting materials for high yield, fertilizer plants will give us they type required, financing options, what the investor is bringing to the table, security issues and more. All these are vital. The community will be made to be partners with investors to ensure the project succeeds”, he said.