Uche Usim, Abuja
Members of the Oil Palm Growers Association of Nigeria (OPGAN) have extolled President Muhammadu Buhari and the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Mr Godwin Emefiele, for their efforts to assist them to expand their businesses and end palm oil importation.
The apex bank began disbursing a N30 billion intervention loan late last year to oil palm farmers in a strategic move to conserve the huge foreign exchange spent on importing it.
The newly-elected President of the association, Mr Joe Onyiuke, said that empowering smallholder farmers under the Anchor Borrower Programme (ABP) was a strategic way to end poverty, guarantee food security and grow foreign exchange.
According to him, the Buhari administration has demonstrated its seriousness and preparedness to place agriculture on a higher pedestal towards revamping the economy.
‘Other associations have been accessing the CBN interventions and they’ve been doing very well,’ he said.
‘If you look at cotton, cotton has transformed this country again: our uniform men are now buying cotton grown from this country. This was done by both the CBN governor and the Buhari-administration.’
The new OPGAN leadership came on board over the weekend following the dissolution of the erstwhile exco by its trustees over a plethora of allegations, especially illegally overstaying its tenure.
Onyiuke added that the inability of the previous leadership to create a solid structure and properly organise the association had weakened and insulated the members from getting a slice of the oil palm development funds already unveiled by the apex bank.
He noted that though the CBN Governor had meetings with oil palm stakeholders recently, OPGAN as an association had failed to leverage on the collaboration to collectively access the funds to boost their businesses.
He stressed that the oil palm value chain has enormous potential ‘to bring Nigeria back to where it should be in the world of the palm oil market,’ stressing that the association needed to be well organised going forward.
The OPGAN president noted that Nigeria has the capacity and capability to control 80 per cent share of the oil palm of every household if properly educated and mobilised to grow the commodity.
He further called on the federal government to provide adequate funding for the Nigerian Institute for Oil Palm Research (NIFOR) as this represented the bedrock for repositioning the sector for greater output.
In his preliminary remarks shortly after the newly elected exco was sworn in, Onyiuke thanked the board of trustees which had taken it upon themselves to reposition the association.
He also expressed gratitude to the association for the trust reposed in the new leadership and assured that it would not fail in anyway.
‘We will do everything possible to run a very transparent administration. We will do our accounting system the way it is done all over the world. All of us are united by one religion here- oil palm,’ he said.
‘We need to bring oil palm back to the original status as it used to be a major foreign exchange earner for this country.
‘And other countries that came here to take our seeds today are doing much better than us and are even earning much more than we earn on crude oil.
‘So it is my desire to organise every smallholder farmer in Nigeria together and begin to do proper training and education.’
According to him, ‘today in Nigeria, the big players are there, they have structure, they’re more organised and so they go to the banks and get anything they want.
‘But what about the smallholder farmers? If we don’t take time in this country, a time will come when people from other countries like Indonesia and Malaysia will come here and buy all the lands because they’ve stopped them from expanding there.’