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Thursday, 5 May 2016

Palm Revolution And Economic Diversification: The Imo Example (OPINION)



The present dire economic situation in the country which is largely attributable to the crash of the global crude oil price presents a period of great introspection and strategic thinking. Consequently, several visionary leaders and patriotic Nigerians have joined voices in calling for genuine diversification of the country’s economy, with more emphasis on agriculture. Indeed, such calls have become compelling more than ever before in light of these enormous economic challenges facing the nation and the great potential of the agricultural sector in providing employment opportunities to our teaming youth.

It is therefore in response to the above situation and the determination of the various governments, federal and state, to improve the sector and expand its productive capacity as a necessary in put in food production and poverty reduction that many state governments which hitherto had relied heavily on federal government monthly allocations, and which are currently faced with reduced revenue as a result of the dwindling economic fortunes of the country, are presently trying to be creative in this direction.

 However, the situation in Imo is almost music to the ears of many, as the futuristic and visionary people’s governor, Owelle Rochas Okorocha,who foresaw the need to earnestly and genuinely embark on diversifying the state’s economy as early as the beginning of his first term in office in 2011. In full realization of the fact that the capacity of the state’s economy to ensure adequate food security and drive the export sector is highly dependent on the aggressive development of the agricultural sector in the state, and in further consideration of the reality that palm oil production constituted a corner stone of Igbo economy before the discovery of crude, and was in fact an integral part of the drive for the reduction of poverty and enhancement of economic growth and prosperity, the governor embarked on a massive conscientization of the people of the state on the urgent need to rely less on petro-dollar and more on agro-dollar.

Unarguably, palm oil has the potential to create a sustainable vibrant economy. According to World Bank records, it accounts for 34% of the world’s annual total vegetable oil production and 63% of the global exports of vegetable oils. Palm oil is actively produced in 42 countries of the world. South East Asian countries of Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand account for 90% of global production. Nigeria, which produced the entire palm sold in the world market in 1901 and up to the 1960’s, is currently the 3rd largest producer after Indonesia and Malaysia, producing a mere 1.7% of total world production, which is hardly adequate for local need. As a result, the country has had to rely heavily on import as it can hardly satisfy local demand.

It is therefore in an effort to reclaim this lost glory and the need to re-awaken the people’s consciousness in going back to their roots that the governor launched a massive campaign on the urgency in and importance of revamping the palm oil sector. The governor’s call gained serious momentum early in his administration, as he successfully sold the noble vision to the people of the state. Consequently, he developed a simple but effective slogan, IkuolaNkwu-meaning, have you planted a palm, and an injunction, KuonuNkwu, which means, plant a palm. These, sooner than later almost became a state anthem and every day greeting among ordinary Imo folks.  Fortunately for the government, the programme has continued to resonate among the entirety of Imo people as many of them understood the governor’s direction and the compelling need to aggressively diversify the palm economy of the state.

The highly resourceful governor did not stop at sloganeering as many of his predecessors did on several policy issues, but followed it up with concrete and actionable programmes that were intended to make the state the leading producer of oil palm and other derivatives from it. In this direction, he articulated a policy that aimed at implementing the planting of 3million improved variety of palm seedlings in three years across the state. In quick succession, he also launched the Back to Land, Palm to Palm programme which was designed to transform the state’s economy through rapid expansion and modernization of the palm industry.

As a further evidence of his determination to turn around the economic base of the state, the vision bearing governor also realised the futility of the state clinging on to ADAPALM, (which he had already renamed Imo Palm Plantation), when it is obvious that the state lacks the capacity to properly manage it, given its experience in the past. Hence, without wasting time, he mustered a rare political will and courage which apparently were lacking inpast leadership of the state, and entered into a lease agreement of the hitherto moribund establishment with The Roche Group. The fifteen year lease generated a whopping 2.3b naira to the state. The governor had once spoken in glowing terms about this policy masterstroke and the subsequent financial windfall that came from it when he said, ‘my administration made the first internally generated revenue in three months through the oil palm when it leased out Imo palm Plantation to private investors and the money realised from this venture is what is being used to build 305 new school buildings of 12 classroom blocs in the 305 political wards of the state’

The governor’s commitment to ensuring that this policy is realised was further boosted when he provided a grant of 3.3m naira to each traditional ruler in the 637 autonomous communities in the state for the purpose of cultivating the new improved palm seedlings which the government had earlier provided, as well as the establishment of local oil mills for oil palm extraction. Communities that were able to procure expansive parcels of land for this project are already running with it, while those constrained are making do with small holdings and still exploring opportunities for bigger acreages.
There is indeed no doubt that an aggressive development of the palm oil industry is an effective tool in wealth creation, massive employment, youth empowerment, accelerated rural development and poverty reduction. This is mainly as a result of the many uses of palm oil and its derivatives. For instance, palm kernel cake which is a by-product of the residue after oil extraction, is quite useful in feeding livestock. The palm fronds are useful in making mats, brooms, baskets etc., while the tree can either be tapped for wine, which is a rich source of yeast, or used as a support for buildings.

When palm wine is allowed to ferment and distilled, it yields ogogoro or local gin. Also the empty bunch when dried and processed, is used in the preparation of local delicacies like ugba, abacha etc. Palm fruits fibre which comes after oil extraction isalso used for making foot mats, brushes, fuel, mulching and manuring of crops, while the palm kernel shell is used for checking flooding, decoration and landscaping etc. More importantly, the kernel has several uses- among which are; oil extract or what is locally called elu-aki is a potent remedy for convulsion, much as it is useful for several other industrial purposes. As a result, a massive palm oil revolution in the state is all gain for farmers, their dependants, communities and governments. This particularly so as the present Government of OwelleRochasOkorocha is determined to raise the industrial base of the state through the establishment of rural small scale factories across the 305 political wards of the state.

These facts account for the Rescue Mission government’s commitment tothe on-going policy implementation aimed at encouraging agro-based cottage industries in the state. For instance, the Imo young Millionaires Club programme is one of such initiatives whose objective is to encourage the youth to venture into agriculture with the aim of eradicating unemployment and over reliance on government for job creation. Government is also committed to ensuring that the establishment of community based industries will have the capacity to employ at least ten persons from each community. Already, the Governor has set aside the sum of 10m naira per community for this laudable initiative. With a total of 637 autonomous communities in the state, the programme is expected to absorb no less than 6, 370 people. Hence, besides creating career opportunities for our youth, the programme will also lead to increase in food production. It is therefore the determination of the present government of the state to harness every available resource to increase agricultural productivity and rural income.There is therefore no doubt that the palm revolution is an integral part of the government’s policy direction to develop the internal capacity of the state in order to implement economically sustainable policies particularly in the agricultural sector of the economy.

PHOTO: Gov Rochas Okorocha Of Imo State

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