Tony John, Port Harcourt
Palm oil stakeholders have risen with commitment to resuscitate the industry in Rivers State.
At a forum in Port Harcourt recently, stakeholders and participants were enjoined to rediscover opportunities inherent in the industry to boost Nigeria’s economy.
The event was organized by Port Harcourt Chamber of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture (PHCCIMA) in collaboration with major players in the palm oil industry. It was tagged “Resuscitating the Palm Oil Industry, Prospects in Rivers State.”
PHCCIMA President, Chief Nabil Saleh charged stakeholders to refocus attention of government, investors and key operators of the economy on the palm oil industry to rediscover vistas of opportunities in the state ancient economic base that existed before the advent of crude oil.
He also urged key players in the palm oil industry “to heed to the clarion call to diversify our ailing economy to agriculture.”
Saleh stated that the objectives of the forum were to critically examine the root cause of collapse of the palm oil industry and also to mitigate the challenges, including identifying huge potential of the sub-sector, promoting its commercial cultivation, creating more jobs and reducing poverty in Rivers and Nigeria at large.
Saleh said PHCCIMA would continue to partner government and stakeholders to promote areas of common interest through strategic and meaningful advocacies that would engender needed socio-economic development in Rivers.
President, Nigerian Association of Chambers of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture (NACCIMA), Hajiya Saratu Iya Aliyu, who was represented by the First Deputy President, Ide John Udeagbala, said resuscitation of palm oil industry was an important project.
She noted that the project was worth actualising at this time, when the global trend of technology is fast moving from oil to energy.
She urged Nigerians to be serious with agriculture to create more employment and boost the economy.
Making his presentation on the topic: “Harnessing the potentials of oil palm industry in Nigeria,” former special adviser to the Rivers State Governor on Investment and Privatisation, Mr. Isaac Okemini, enumerated the importance of the oil palm industry to the economy of the state, which include conservation of foreign exchange, job creation and serves as a tool for effective security management.
He said 60 percent of oil palm investment is domiciled locally, hence oil palm industry is rural-based and has the ability to mitigate rural-urban migration, which will have direct impact on rural economy and helps to reduce poverty and income distribution.
Mr. Okemini outlined the critical challenges of the industry.
“Oil palm production is determined by the four factors of production which include land, labour, capital and entrepreneurship.”
He regretted that each of the four was in short supply.
“There is a serious knowledge gap within the industry as premised in a situation, where you might have the casual labour, but the middle level and senior management cadre required to run the industry is limited. The employment and remuneration programme of the industry is not sustainable long-term, even as there is also critical shortage of indigenous entrepreneurs.”
He similarly identified the land tenure system, which mitigates the extensive usage of existing land, population pressure limiting the usage of existing land for oil palm cultivation and also lamented that the critical mass of investment required by the industry, is not available and may never be available.
On the way forward, Okemini noted that government/private sector partnership was critical for the industry. He said government can and must create land. He said current system of dispossessing peasant farmers of their land is not sustainable as it spreads poverty. This, he said, has become imperative as oil palm development must be a partnership between large scale developers and rural land owners.
Similarly, he harped on availability of capital. The current Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) initiative, he said, could not provide the critical mass of capital required to drive the growth of the industry. He said CBN in conjunction with the Debt Management Office can create a $1 billion 10-year bond dedicated to the oil palm industry.
Entrepreneurship, the one-time Special Adviser on Privatization said, is key.
“The state governments must deliberately create and empower large ticket entrepreneurs, who can power the growth in the industry.”
He added that government cannot run the industry but must define the direction the industry will go by getting dedicated and committed investors interested in the industry; and lastly also intensify training.
Managing Director of Siat Nigeria Limited and member of the National Review Committee on palm oil policies, Mr. Felix Nwabuko, in a paper titled: “The Draft Review Document on National Policy on Palm Oil Value Chain in Nigeria” said the essence of the national oil palm policy was to guide, regulate, protect and support both public and private investment in the sector”.
With the policy in place, the country will have a national document that would protect the sector, due diligence would be done to stimulate investment for higher productivity.
He said the final National Policy Document on Palm Oil value chain in Nigeria would allow producers to compete globally in the international market, increasing sources of revenue to government at State and Federal levels and boost job creation in the country.
Nwabuko called on government to partner the private sectors to achieve its goal in oil palm industry to boost economy of Nigeria.
Director General of PHCCIMA and member of the National Review Committee on Palm oil Policies in Nigeria, Mr. Erasmus Chukunda, while giving more insight to the programme, said the event was aimed at eliciting inputs from palm oil players in the state and region with a view to capturing their concerns and contributions in the final national policy document on palm oil.