Current global demands for palm oil, hold tremendous socio-economic prospects and opportunities for Nigeria and other countries.
The latest scramble for the tropical produce is quite exciting and valuable.
Notwithstanding the motley turns and twists, behind the latest upswing, stakeholders view the development, as propitious. Two major events are responsible for this rush.
The first is the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which has, severely, stalled production of sunflower oil, the favorite brand of most bakers, around the world.
Ukraine is the world’s leading exporter of sunflower oil in the world, supplying about 46 percent, according to the Observatory of Economic Complexity.
Unfortunately, the war-ravaged country, can no longer sustain its oil production and supply chain, due to the massive destruction of its infrastructure.
The next trigger was the recent ban of palm oil export by Indonesia.
Other factors were identified, as crop failure, post-harvest losses and other climatic disasters.
The plant derivative, also called palmate, is an edible vegetable extract, distilled from the mesocarp, which is the reddish pulp of the fruit.
According to Wikipedia, it accounted for about 33 percent of global oils produced in 2014.
‘On average globally, humans consumed 7.7 kg of palm oil per person in 2015.’
The world’s largest producer is Indonesia followed by Thailand and Malaysia.
Nigeria is the fifth biggest grower, with 1.5 percent or 1.03 million metric tonnes of the world’s total output, however Cote d’Voire is the largest exporter of the oil in Africa.
Researchers at Statista revealed that ‘in 2021, production of palm oil was estimated to be 1280 thousand metric tonnes.’
‘It registered the highest growth in 2010, when the production grew by 14 percent compared to the previous year.’
A similar study from United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) reported that ‘Nigerian production in the last three years, remained stable, at over one million metric tonnes.’
Over the years, research has focused on ‘deleterious effects of palm oil and palmitic acid consumption, as sources of saturated fat content in edible oils.’
The findings led to ‘conclusions that palm oil and saturated fats should be replaced with polyunsaturated fats in the diet.’
However palmate is still widely used in food and cosmetics manufacturing, particularly in India and Asian countries.
‘Its highly saturated nature,’ Wikipedia noted, ‘renders it solid at room temperature in temperate regions, making it a cheap substitute for butter or hydrogenated vegetable oils in making pastries.’
As a lubricant, it is also utilized in ‘personal care and cleaning products, providing the foaming agent in nearly every soap, shampoo, or detergent. About 70 percent of personal care products including soap, shampoo, makeup, and lotion use it.’
Quite importantly too, the lard has also become a major component in the production of oil-based biodiesel.
Practitioners of alternative medicine in Nigeria and other jurisdictions, believe it has antimicrobial effects on wound-healing. This claim is contentious, because of lack of scientific proof.
In the last few years, the oil, suffered a downturn, following ‘a 2015 meta-analysis and 2017 advisory from the American Heart Association’ which reported health risks from its consumption.
It was listed among foods supplying dietary saturated fat, which increases blood levels of LDL cholesterol and increased risk of cardiovascular diseases.’
This led to recommendations for reduced use or elimination of dietary palm oil in favor of consuming unhydrogenated vegetable oils.’
The tree has also attracted the environmental concerns, essentially due to its role in deforestation in tropical areas, where palms are grown.
It is cited, as a factor in social problems, due to allegations of human rights violations by growers.
Cheerily, the tide has turned favourably, for the tropical plant, botanically called, Elaeis.
The African specie, known as Elaeis Guineensis, is widely grown in many Southern Nigerian states notably, Edo, Abia, Imo, Enugu, Cross River, Delta, Anambra, Ogun, Bayelsa.
Several nations, which depend heavily on imported oil, are already groaning from the excruciating impact of the latest restrictions by Indonesia.
Self-protectionism is the name of the game. Most countries tend to enunciate policies, that primarily, favour their people and progress.
The principle was quite visible, during the COVID-19 vaccine distribution.
Are there lessons for Nigeria from all these?
The answer is yes. The expanding markets point to the urgency to invest the nation’s palm plantations.
Recall that in colonial times, this humble product was a high-income earner for Eastern Nigeria. Its fortunes, waned with the discovery of the crude oil.
Sadly, this along with the nation’s leadership failure, precipitated the stagnation in the agro-allied industry and other vital sectors.
The general malaise has worsened, over the years, with endemic and systemic rot, affecting the public service.
Beleaguered by these intractable problems, notably corruption, insecurity, poverty, infrastructural decay and economic crises, many citizens continue to live, below international poverty brackets, subsisting on less than one dollar, per day.
Public funds are often misappropriated or diverted to personal accounts, thus worsening food shortages, inflation and social inequities across the country.
It is, therefore not surprising, that the much-touted schemes, to revive agriculture, particularly the palm oil industry, have been largely, unsuccessful.
Large-scale agriculture is capital-intensive, hence farmers need much assistance to finance plantations.
Those, who spoke to this writer about their frustrations and plight, complained that they ‘cannot access loans and other credit facilities, from banks and government agencies, due to lack of collaterals, high interest rates and land acquisition squabbles.’
This is quite unfortunate, because in other climes, farmers are highly prioritized and incentived.
Every responsible government, invests hugely, in the welfare of ordinary citizens.
But in Nigeria, it is not so, because government initiatives, are often skewed against deprived and vulnerable people.
Indisputably, this administration still has the opportunity to change this negative trend, through sound economic policies, capable of igniting employment and agriculture, particularly palm oil production.
Industry players are of the opinion that Nigeria has the capacity to increase its current share in the global palm oil market, if adequate facilities are provided.
Nigeria cannot afford to mismanage the golden opportunities, inherent in the current race for palm oil, at both international and regional markets.
.Ojukwu is a Fellow of Hubert H. Humphrey Fellowship, a publisher and newspaper columnist. Her award-winning articles, are part of her contributions and advocacy for improved socio-economic services for all citizens, as articulated in the Sustainable Development Goals(SDGS).
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