New Telegraph

Evaluating Edo Oil Palm-Produce Exploits

Background

Before the discovery of crude oil in the late 50s, Nigeria was the number one producer of oil palm, which then was one of its major foreign exchange earner, aside co- coa and other farm produce as an agrarian economic based country. However, upon the discovery of the Black Gold (Oil), the country relegated agriculture to the back- ground and began to bash in the wealth of the new found honey pot to the detriment of its rich agrarian resources. Years after, the nation, sadly, became the net importer of every conceivable agrarian products among others.

It came from the position of multiple economic products to a mono-economic product, relying solely on its oily wealth. In terms of oil palm produce, today, Nigeria is rated fifth with 1.4 million metric tons production annually. Indonesia claims the number spot with 47 million metric tons while Malaysia (which was believed to have collected her oil palm seedlings from former Bendel State, now Edo State, at the Nigeria Institute for Oil Palm Research-NIFOR:

Is a research centre into genetic Im- provement, production and process- ing of oil palm, Raphia, date, coconut, Shea and ornamental palms), is rated second with 18.44 million metric tons. Thailand is in the third position with 2.2 million metric tons and Colombia is at number four position with 1.8 million metric tons. Nigeria’s current position wouldn’t have been possible without the efforts of the Edo State government. The reforms by the Edo State Governor, Mr. Godwin Obaseki, in the agric sector, especially in boosting oil palm production and economic growth paid off as the State now produces 12% of Nigeria’s total oil palm production. Edo State is closely followed by Akwa Ibom and Cross River states, both contribute between five to eight per cent.

Edo State oil palm programme

Edo State is one of the states in Nigeria that enjoys the tropics and has vast forest land consisting of both primary and secondary forest area. It was noted for it rich oil palm produce, which over the years was relegated to the backwaters of history as a result of the oil and gas exploration that was a late discovery in the country. However, desirous of putting the state back to work and reviving it economy and check over reliance on the monthly federal allocation from the Federation Account, Obaseki decided to embark on a number of economic ventures to improve the economic status of the state and it Internally Generated Revenue (IGR).

One of the areas that caught his attention was that of the oil palm given that Edo State is richly blessed with vast forestation and oil palm produce, which of course, was one of its fortes in years gone by. To this end, the governor embarked on the development of oil palm cultivation and production in the State. It should be noted that one of the things that bolstered the governor’s interest in this direction was the fact of the growing demand for oil palm and its bye-products at the international market.

The demand surpassed that of crude oil and still do at the international level. To kick start this venture, the governor commissioned a Land Use Land Change Analysis (LULCA) that was conducted by Proforest, a global organization. The report from the research shown that the State has over 500,000 hectares which was reserved for government use in the 1930s.

Following this, the governor directed that degraded parts of the forest reserves be used for oil palm cultivation and development. The Edo State Oil Palm Program (ESOPP) was birthed by the governor in 2019 for this purpose, with the mandate to reposition the State as the net producer and exporter of oil palm products in Nigeria. Current development shows that ESOPP has pursued with vigour its mandate as it has al- located about 64,000 hectares of degraded forest lands to credible investors among which is;Dufill, Flour Mills, Fayus Inc., and Saro.

International best practice ESOPP has also followed conscientiously international best prac- tice by operating in such a sustainable to ensure the sustainability of the forest area by also embarking on afforestation and preservation of the local communities’ environment. This it has done by ensuring that investors under it adhere to the RoundTable for Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) principles by following global best practice and ensuring that oil palm cultivation does not adversely affect host communities; socially, physically, ecologically, or humanly.

It is also on record that Edo State is the only oil palm producing state International best practice ESOPP has also followed conscientiously international best prac- tice by operating in such a sustainable to ensure the sustainability of the forest area by also embarking on afforestation and preservation of the local communities’ environment. This it has done by ensuring that investors under it adhere to the RoundTable for Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) principles by following global best practice and ensuring that oil palm cultivation does not adversely affect host communities; socially, physically, ecologically, or humanly.

It is also on record that Edo State is the only oil palm producing state in the country has signed the Marrakech Declaration alongside 10 other countries which account for 75 per cent of Africa’s forests from the Tropical Forest Alliance’s Africa Palm Oil Initiative (APOI). This include: which include Cameroon, Central African Republic (CAR), Côte D’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon, Ghana, Liberia, Republic of Congo, and Sierra Leone.

Oil palm products are vast and used by different industries across the world in the production of numerous products such as household items and cosmetics. Other products associated with oil palm are food products, detergents, shampoo, cosmetics and bio fuel. According to Statista in 2018/2019, the palm oil usage amounted to over 71 million metric tons worldwide. The figure increased to approximately 73.9 million metric tons by 2021/2022. Economically, palm oil could easily be considered a good investment.

Over $500m investment

The governor through the Edo State Oil Palm Programme (ESOPP), aimed at de-risking the oil palm value chain by providing contiguous land to investors for sus- tainable production has allocated over 70,000 hectares of land for oil palm development and attracted over $500 million in investment, the largest of its kind in sub-Saharan Africa. Apart from Okomu and Presco, the two largest agriculture compa- nies quoted on the Nigerian Stock Exchange, the State today plays host to over 10 companies that have been allocated land.

They include; Dufil Prima Foods, the makers of Indomie Noodles; Saro Oil Palm; Flour Mills Nigeria Plc; an American company called Fayus, and Saturn Farms. The Chief Executive Officer of Foremost Development Services Limited, an intermediary organisation to Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) in Nigeria, the global body responsible for promoting responsible oil palm production, Alhaji Fatai Afolabi said the new feat is a reflection of the nuanced reforms by the Gover- nor Obaseki-led administration to boost oil palm development.

According to him, “Today, Edo State is the number one oil palm producing State in Nigeria, contributing about 12 per cent to the aggregate oil palm production in Nigeria with the closest being Akwa-Ibom and Cross River states who are contributing between five to eight per cent.” He added, “This is the progress the State has made between when Governor Obaseki made his commitment to develop oil palm and now.”

47, 000 hectare of new oil palm plantation

Following the success of phase one of the ESOPP Programme, the State governor recently unveiled plans for the launch of phase 2 of the programme, with an additional 47,000 hectares of land to be allocated to new and prospective oil palm investors in the State. Obaseki, who made this known recently when he played host to the Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), Joseph ‘JD’ D’cruz, alongside other investors in oil palm in the State, at the Govern- ment House, Benin City, said the ESOPP Programme, among others, was aimed at addressing deforestation in the State.

He disclosed, “We are starting ESOPP 2 and will be launching that next month. We are doing 47,000 hectares of land in the first instance. We will be using the learn- ing from ESOPP 1 for ESOPP 2. I believe prospective investors for ESOPP 2 are here. “Our programme is not for acquisition of land but how to help you invest in oil palm and reduce the risk involved, encouraging you, our investors, to come into the State to do business. “We emphasise the key advantage of the ESOPP programme which is to use oil palm to reforest.

This is the unique thing about the ESOPP Programme which doesn’t cut down trees but goes to areas that have been deforested and where we cannot regenerate those forests into its natural state, we use oil palm as an interim zero-carbon idea to restore the environment. Speaking further, “Oil palm has been demonstrated to be one of the most prolific edible fats in the world. In many parts of the world, people are not cutting down trees to grow oil palm.

This informed our policy and strategy in Edo State as we decided to invest in the key competitive and comparative advantages. Edo is the home of natural oil palm. “This crop is indigenous to us as a State and this is key. We have been talking about diversifying Nigeria’s economy for the last 40 years. We see this programme as an opportunity to demonstrate how diversi- fication of the economy can occur.”

Speaking on efforts by his administration to diversify the State’s economy, the governor noted, “To achieve this, we have worked hard to create the enabling environment for investors, removed bottlenecks, and encouraged them as well as creating the market for them. “We have taken interest in oil palm production and followed RSPO through because of the bigger picture of diversifying our economy which is a large one. We must focus on agriculture as the mainstay, fast-tracking and uplift- ing the productivity from agriculture which has a huge value chain.

“In time pass, we had a well structured system as agriculture was our mainstay. We had connecting roads before the Civil War and produced, while buyers went to communities to buy from farmers directly. We had a very integrated and well-planned agricultural chain.

“It was a well-structured system at that time because our foreign exchange earnings relied on the ability to get the commodity to the Port for export but that culture has been lost. “Capacity is key. So, the Edo State Government is building capacity through the College of Agriculture in the State, impacting knowledge and improving capacity. We are going through food inflation as a Country because we are not growing enough.”

ESOPP’s vision and mission

Headed by Mr Churchill Ebehitale Oboh, ESOPP core vision is; to become the oil palm hub in Nigeria – providing impetus for the development of competitive and sustainable oil palm. Mission; to engage with relevant stakeholders to determine and recommend suitable land for oil palm investments, ensure peaceful co-existence between investors and host communities while boosting smallholder production in Edo State.

Coordinate, regulate and promote all activities relating to the oil palm industry in Edo state which includes but not limited to land availability, accessibility and possession by investors; Be the resource and information center of the oil palm industry in Edo state; Implement policies to ensure the viability of the oil palm industry in Edo state; Conduct and promote awareness campaigns and training programs on best practices relating to the oil palm industry; Serve as liaison between the private sector and all relevant public stakeholders in the industry.

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