The Chairman of the governing council of Nigerian Institute for Oil Pam Research, (NIFOR), Benin City, Emperor Chris Baywood Ibe, has called the attention of local and foreign investors to the enormous opportunities in the palm industry. He says with the support of government, the sector possesses what it takes to turn around the country’s economy just like it did about 55 years ago.
Relationship between palm and crude oil business
The relationship I see here is business. Therefore, my personal approach to this assignment will be from the standpoint of a businessman. As a board, our approach will be to position NIFOR as a private-sector-driven agency. If we don’t apply this approach, we will surely have challenges because a lot of Nigerians do not even know what NIFOR stands for.
As a businessman who has been in oil and gas business in the last 28 years, I have gone through the sector’s swings, business policy tumbling. I have always weathered the storm. So, I will bring that experience to bear as the chairman of the governing council of NIFOR. My take is that we will adopt the private-sector approach in order for us to make something out of the agency.
Our agenda for NIFOR
We look forward to creating awareness about NIFOR in order to bring back its glory. Over 50 years ago, NIFOR used to be one of the agencies that the Federal government heavily relied upon. It would interest many Nigerians to know that NIFOR is one of the oldest agencies in the country, established in 1964.
It was from NIFOR that the Malaysians picked up their first palm seedling with which they developed their own palm industry. Today, Malaysia is one of the leading producers of palm produce. So, if we apply the business sense and allow the private sector to drive the agency, we can take it back to greater heights.
But again, if we are not bugged down by bureaucracy which is the hallmark of the civil service, I’m hopeful that we are going to come up with programmes that will make NIFOR a worthy venture. That is why we are going to embark on awareness creation to make Nigerians realise that if Nigeria can turn around rice production, almost to zero importation within two years, we can also make the palm oil industry the real sector for investment.
Everybody in Nigerian today is thinking rice. So, we can get as many Nigerians and foreign investors as possible begin to think the palm oil industry. If there are Nigerians thinking of businesses to invest in, let them think the palm industry. By so doing, we can turn the sector around and make it competitive alongside crude oil. We can make it an investor haven for Nigerians and foreigners. So, our focus at the moment is to make NIFOR investor friendly for both Nigerians and foreign investors alike.
One target we are setting for ourselves is to make NIFOR a brand. We will seek to promote the NIFOR brand and get Nigerians to identify with it because NIFOR can boost the Nigerian economy. By creating this awareness, we will make people to know that it holds enormous investment opportunities.
If we don’t realise our target in terms of revenue, we would have succeeded in establishing a strong platform for growth and sustainability. We would have created opportunities for investment and become a catalyst for development and improvement. So our word here is that we will seek to be a catalyst to turn around the fortunes of palm production at NIFOR and the country as a whole.
Given that we don’t have much time on our hands and that the palm seedling takes a minimum of 4-5 years to mature and begin to yield revenue, we are going to set up a template and establish a frame work for investment and attract private sector and entrepreneurs’ interest in NIFOR. People are not interested in oil palm because they are not aware of the opportunities it holds. That is why we want to bring that to the attention of investors seeking investment opportunities.
I see NIFOR coming back
Left to me, as chairman of the governing council, NIFOR should be private-sector driven. When we effectively do that, we are sure to surpass our target. Our target is to make NIFOR an institution that everybody would do business with. We are inspired by the sudden turnaround of the rice sector in Nigeria. We are enamoured that Thailand would soon come to Nigeria to set up a milling plant for rice production, following the news that the government of Thailand is gravely concerned that rice importation from Thailand had dropped by nearly 97 per cent. So, my take on this is that we can do the same given the enabling environment, the political will and support of the Federal government.
One thing we have to make clear to government is that if we are talking about diversification, oil palm is one key area in agriculture that can turn around the economy of the nation. I believe that government is paying so much attention to rice and that was why it was able to come up with the Anchor Borrowing Scheme of the CBN which has revolutionarised rice production. I see no reason why government cannot set up such a scheme for investors to develop the palm oil industry sector. This will be a revolution that will change the face of palm oil production in the country.
Palm produce can be exported
If we are able to produce enough palm produce for domestic consumption, we can export the excess. Every produce from the palm is exportable. So, the important thing for now is to set up a time frame, a target and a frame work that will establish a real value chain. If we are able to do that, we will become a net exporter of palm produce – oil, sheer butter and others. Our word here therefore is that we will work hard within the short time to help NIFOR attain the next level of achievement. .
Clarion call on investors
I call on potential investors to consider the enormous opportunities in palm oil production. Nothing about the palm is a loss; everything from the palm is re-useable; everything from the palm has revenue a based. If it is well supported, it is one aspect of agriculture that can attract the confidence of investors. It is an opportunity waiting to be tapped. I therefore call on entrepreneurs like me to consider giving this sector a look in as it is an opportunity that has manifested itself.
Here is a crop that can be planted both in savannah and rain forest belts of the country. It is one crop that can withstand adverse weather conditions. We are going to take this message to the door steps of many Nigerians and during our tenure as members of the board of NIFOR in order to make our impact felt.
Role of government in oil palm revolution
I wish to appeal to government to come out with policies that will help to make land available to investors willing to go into palm production. The biggest challenge in this sector is the size of land required by every serious investor wishing to go into commercial oil production. Every investor indeed, needs massive swats of land to establish plantations.