Igwe Hillary Uche, National President, Oil Palm Growers Association of Nigeria speaks with EDWIN NWANOJUO on the recent intervention by the Central Bank of Nigeria on oil palm and other issues on oil palm production
What is the status of oil palm in Nigeria presently?
The point now is the oil palm is a very important and helpful commodity that can help the economy but the country is too shy over the investment on it. It is like is being neglected because they are hoping on crude oil, which is not helping the masses enough in this country. But oil palm is a commodity that can easily compete with the crude oil and help the economy of this country to grow very high but is being neglected because the government has been shying away from investing in it, unless now that the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) have come to intervene.
What are your expectation from CBN?
This is what we have been yearning for many years now, we have been bothering the Federal Ministry of Agriculture, Science and Technology, Trade, Industry and Investment over the investment in palm oil that this commodity have enough to help which will reduce unemployment in the country. We are now expecting that the coming in of CBN is to save this country from chaos. We see it as a dancing program that every Nigeria should find a way to support it grow very well to help the CBN Governor to do whatever he wants to do, and let our state governors not go to dance over it and intimidate people for their personal interest.
What are the major challenges oil palm growers are facing?
The main challenges we had before CBN came was lack of the main seedling, then lack of fund to invest. You know oil palm is a long term product that you will invest for three to six years before you start gaining something. If you allow only the rural farmers to go ahead and feed their family with it, is not even enough to feed the country. It requires funding, government intervention because they are so many other things involved, you go on harvesters because this former local climbers that harvest palm fruits have gone out for greener pasture, so you can see them any longer. What we need is motorized harvester which will help to harvest, and the moment is harvested it has to be carried away to the milling point. They should provide good mills to be milling and the mill quality of oil that is in international market is requiring depends on the distance, the time between the milling and the harvesting. The shortest time between harvesting and milling will give you special palm oil which international market needs. If you wait more than five days to one week to mill, the oil will give you zero feed, that’s the crude palm oil which has no value. So that is the challenges we are having and good seedling, they should fund Nigerian Institute for Palm Oil Research (NIFOR), because the government is owing them, they ask them to supply seedling and they are not paying them, presently, the government is owing them 250 million Naira, so how do NIFOR go ahead in supplying the good seedlings they are giving to farmers. Seedling should to be cut to subsidized rate so that farmers can cut their bush and plant so that they can get something good.
When do we expect to see the impact of CBN’s intervention?
The point now is CBN is planning the modalities of how they are going to intervene, I wish they have started. If they can start now that the rain has not gone far, we can start planting the seedling, they promised giving us seedling this month, if after this month, if they don’t give us, how can we start expansion and after this month, if they don’t start the program, how do you think we can start any expansion, because if they can start immediately, we too can start planting. They should start from funding NIFOR so that they can give it out to farmers for early planting, so that before four years you will start seeing the dividends. In the next six years will start exporting palm oil and that will make the economy very great.
From what have you said, are the state governors trying to frustrate this move?
Yes the state governors are frustrating the efforts of the federal government efforts in economic transformation, because they are sentimental and selfish in their governance. If this program come now, you see them going to hijack it and put in their own system. Some state governors hijacked the Anchor Borrower Program which the federal government brought out last three years, plus their allocation. We don’t know what is happening in this country, if the state governors are supporting the federal government, the country will grow fast.
In terms of land accessibility, I learnt that the federal government will release some money if some people can expand their plantation, how do you intend to access land, is there any partnership between you and the state government to get more land?
As the National President of Oil Palm Growers in 24 States, I am sure of my farmers, they have enough land for their own expansion, this issue of trying to use state government is a narrow way to hijack and destroy the program. If state government get the land for you, they will come to collect the lion share of what you are doing and the money you will pay is even bigger than the money you will use and invest to enter into your farm and invest in it. They will either find you Certificate Rights of Occupancy. That’s the language they use to scare rural farmers. My farmers have enough lands for expansion, they can even cooperate and help those who don’t have. So if they center all the investment and empower the farmers, what we need will happen, what we require will go ahead.
What you are trying to say is that the federal government should not bring in middle men in between CBN and oil palm growers?
Yes, we want direct contact, when the oil palm was helping the country, nobody was intervening then.
You said your presence are in 24 states, what are your capacity in those states?
Like I told you, oil palm investment is a long term profit making, before you start getting anything, when you start today, it will take you four years to reap all the money you put into the farm, some of these states go into arable crops like Cassava and Maize, those things that can give them money in the next six months, but now it is me that is creating the chances, I developed oil palm in Nasarawa and Plateau States because they have vast of lands and their land is good for oil palm production. So I supply them seedlings to encourage them to go ahead because of the land mappings. We have land mappings everywhere. I have somebody who have up to 350 hectares. What we need to do now is to cut down and replant. We have made improvement with the former minister of Agriculture, Akinwumi Adesina who gave me the chances to make sure all the farmers access the quantity of land each farmer has for more production because he wanted to expand production. He gave us up to nine million seedlings during his time, so what the CBN what to do now is like the former minister wanted to do that time.
Can you list the major thing you want?
Because of the capital intensiveness of oil palm production, we need cash and we are going to monitor the cash, like they have designed it, we have clusters of minimum of five farmers and maximum of ten farmers. Among these clusters, one must have a mill, then plantation owners will be supplying the mills to produce enough so if these clusters are grouped together, you fund them, they will manage it, and there will be competition in production, there will be competition in paying back, unlike when you give an individual. We need more fund to get seedling from NIFOR, cut more bush, and use bulldozer or caterpillar to create more land so that it can be utilised. If those who has over grown plantation, they cut them down and replant. NIFOR need to be funded to give us the best seedling, because they are in the best position to give us the seedling we want.