PALM OIL STAKEHOLDERS FORUM: PHCCIMA, OTHER STAKEHOLDERS EXPRESS COMMITMENT TO RESUSCITATE THE PALM OIL INDUSTRY IN RIVERS STATE

Stakeholders and participants at the Palm Oil Stakeholders Forum in Port Harcourt have been enjoined to rediscover opportunities inherent in the industry to boost Nigeria’s economy. The call was made by Chief Nabil Saleh, President, Port Harcourt Chamber of Commerce, at the forum organized by PHCCIMA in collaboration with major players in the palm oil industry tagged “Palm Oil Stakeholders Forum”. Speaking to a large crowd at the PHCCIMA Conference hall, Saleh said that the stakeholders forum with the theme, “Resuscitating the Palm Oil Industry, Prospects in Rivers State”, was to refocus attention of government, investors and key operators of the economy on the Palm oil Industry to rediscover vistas of opportunities in our ancient economic base that existed before the advent of crude oil. He also urged the 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 are to critically examine the root cause for the collapse of the Palm oil Industry and also to mitigate the challenges, including identifying the huge potential of the sub-sector, promoting its commercial cultivation, creating more jobs and reducing poverty in Rivers and Nigeria at large. According to Chief Saleh, PHCCIMA would continue to partner government and stakeholders to promote areas of common interest through strategic and meaningful advocacies that will engender needed socio-economic development in Rivers. Hajiya Saratu Iya Aliyu, the President, Nigerian Association of Chambers of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture (NACCIMA), who was represented by the 1st Deputy President, Ide John Udeagbala said that resuscitation of the palm oil industry was an important project. Hajiya Iya Aliyu noted that the project was worth actualizing 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 Privatization, Mr Isaac Okemini enumerated the importance of the oil palm industry to the economy of the state which includes, conservation of foreign exchange, job creation and serves as a tool for effective security management. He said 60% of oil palm investment is domiciled locally, hence oil palm industry is rural-based and has the ability to mitigates rural-urban migration which will have a direct impact on rural economy and helps to reduce poverty and income distribution. Mr Okemini outlined the critical challenges of the industry, saying - “oil palm production is determined by the four factors of production which includes - land, labour, capital and Entrepreneurship”, but regretted that each of the four is in short supply. According to him, there is a serious knowledge gap within the industry; as premised in a situation where you may have the casual labour but the middle level and senior management cadre required to run the industry is limited; hence the employment & remuneration program of the industry is not sustainable long term, even as there is also a 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, Mr Isaac Okemini noted that government/private sector partnership is critical for the industry, saying the government can and must create land. He said the 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 landowners. Similarly, he harps on the availability of capital; according to him, the current CBN initiative cannot 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 $1b 10 year bond dedicated to the oil palm industry. Entrepreneurship according the one time SA on privatization is key: “The state governments must deliberately create and empower large ticket entrepreneurs who can power the growth in the industry”, he said, adding 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. Mr Felix Nwabuko, the Managing Director Of Siat Nigeria Ltd, and member of the National Review Committee on Palm oil policies in Nigeria, 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 is to guide, regulate, protect and support both public and private investment in the sector. According to him, 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 the government to partner the private sectors to achieve its goal in the oil palm industry to boost the economy of Nigeria. The 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 The event witnessed a question and answer session, presentation of plaques to key speakers and special guest, including product and service presentation by sponsors of the event