Palm oil and Palm Kernel business in South East (2)

Twin oils from Palm trees and rediscovering South-East lost economic glory by Odogwu Emeka Odogwu


Isiagu Community axis

Isiagu community in Awka south LGA where Mrs Gladys Nwude and Mrs Pauline Obidike added that the availability of Palm fruits is seasonal, usually between March and May of every year. They said the prices of palm oil reduces drastically at such periods due to the abundance of the produce in the market, while during the off-peak periods, palm oil becomes scarce, and expensive.

For Mr Okwudili Ezeh who added another dimension to the palm tree addition to the economy which is the cutting of palm nuts from the trees which he said is a lucrative business despite the challenges. He said those plying the trade of cutting palm nuts and fronds charge between N200 and N500 depending on the locality for one head.

Umunze palm oil sellers experience

I wonder why no one wanted his or her name in print. They were so unconcerned. An oil retailer at Ogbo mmanu Nkwo Umunze market who did not want his name in print said his role in the business is to buy palm fruits from people mostly villagers, process it into oil before marketing to the public. He said that he suffers untold hardship in the production of the said palm oil especially during the processing.

His words: “As someone that is based in the village, I mostly process my oil palm manually. There is no means of taking my oil palm to the oil mill because it is too far from our village. Most people in my village resort to use of manual equipment like big mortar and long wooden pestle to grind out oil. It is a whole lot of suffering as too much energy is required to do it. We first cook it before we pound it. After the pounding, we then remove it and put it in a sieve so as to bring out the oil before we begin to cook it to remove water. The process is repetitive before we bring out the whole oil in it but if it were to be a standard oil mill, the oven will do the cooking while the machines will grind out the oil.”

Another retailer from Achina disclosed that the business is not lucrative anymore because government has failed to render help to people who are into the business. She said that a bag of fresh palm fruit is sold between #1800 and #2000. But most times, some palm fruit do not yield enough oil to cover the head cost of the said palm. Yet when we brought the little oil we get from it to the market, we are forced to pay huge sum of money for tickets and levy to sell them else we would not be allowed to do so.

A gallon of palm oil is sold between seven thousand (N7,000) and seven thousand five hundred naira (N7,500) but presently, it is sold at eight thousand naira (N8,000). To harvest the palm fruits, the local harvester who climbs to mow it down charges each head at the cost of #100 but there is hardly any route to bring them to the market. There is generally lack of access to bring the palm fruits to the market where there are ready buyers who specialize in oil production.

A manager of one popular oil mill in Umunze said: we buy palm fruit and process them at the oil mill. When we buy it, we cook it and grind it with our grinding machine. Then we have a machine we use to squeeze out the oil properly from the fibre. The fibre remains of the product is separated from the palm kernel and stored for another four days before it is re-grinded using the machine to produce oil used in producing soap, cream and the rest.

After squeezing out the oil, a very large pot is placed on a burning fire to cook the oil so as to separate it from water.

Anambra state government’s reaction

Anambra’s Commissioner for Agriculture, Mechanization, Processing and Export, Mr Afam Mbanefo, noted that the Governor Willie Obiano’s initiative in agriculture has brought a new dawn in the sector and made Agriculture very lucrative. He said the Ministry has over one hundred and six thousand (106,000) registered farmers in its data base while youth participation in Agriculture has increased from seven to twenty five per cent.

According to the Commissioner, the State government initiated community driven programmes including community farming which is already very active in more than twenty communities.

Mr Mbanefo said in addition to Anambra Rice brand, the State has also registered other brands in the Corporate Affairs Commission including Anambra Honey, Anambra Ugu, Anambra fufu and Anambra Palm oil.

Also speaking, the Programme Manager of the State Agricultural Development programme, ADP, Mr Jude Nwankwo said they have sustained efforts in the enlightenment of farmers on best global practices in cultivation and disclosed that officials of the ADP would be at Amaokpala in Orumba North Local Government Area this weekend to train youths on modern farming method including palm nuts.

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The Commissioner for Agriculture, had met with all Micro Small and Medium Agro Processors and Fabricators of all agricultural equipment in the state as a way of developing and building linkages with off-takers and financial institutions for sustainable agricultural development in the state.

Mike Afah, the PRO of the Agriculture Ministry told me that the ministry has been shouting and prodding citizens to pick agric palm trees in the nursery and plant as palm oil is the way to go. He admitted being in discussion with some big time players like Chicason in the agriculture industry to embark on palm oil plantation and production.

Academia’s reaction: Prof Eze’s stand

Prof Anthony Eze of Nnamdi Azikiwe University Awka , Department of Technology and Vocational Education is the Dean of Faculty of Education. He had argued that developing the oil palm industry is one of the ways that Nigeria can reduce poverty and create mass employment. And I am saying so for the South-East zone. The south East Governors forum should encourage the development of palm trees as a cash crop to contribute to the economy as it did during the Eastern Region era. The south east should deploy methodology to mechanize palm oil production, embrace high yielding varieties and support massive development of oil palm plantations across the zone.

Why can’t CBN support the local palm industry since it has the capacity to meet the country’s requirement for palm products, especially palm kernel for the local soap industry? If this is done our palm producers would be encouraged to produce enough palm oil and palm kernel oil for domestic needs and exports. Nigeria has no business importing palm kernel or any oil palm product from any country. Why should Nigeria continue to import about 60% palm oil and palm kernel from Malaysia and Indonesia for our soap and health industries?

Umunze palm nut and palm oil market

Why should Nigeria allow uncontrolled importation of palm kernel oil for manufacturing of soaps, creams and other cosmetic products into the country? Is it a deliberate policy to discourage its local production when the Nigeria’s oil belt region is large enough to produce the needed palm oil and palm kernel oil for local use and export?

Enugu state oil palm experience

The same measure that goes for Anambra in oil palm production is measurable in Enugu state if not more as I was told there is a big oil market in Nsukka but I calculated wrongly and missed the market by a day. I couldn’t get what I wanted due to wrong calculation of their market day. But I still managed to get some facts.

Nsukka Palm Oil Business

As I parked beside an oil seller, she charged towards me but I pleaded I was not buying but investigating how they source their oil and where they sell, a passenger bus pulled over and bought 2 of 4 litres of oil at N1, 500 each without haggling. Another Hausa lorry pulled over and haggled for prize in Hausa with the seller who speaks Hausa too for 10 litres at N3,500 instead of N4,000 he was told. When the prize was settled, he tasted the oil and nodded his head, paid and off they went. I waited and watched as so many vehicles parked along the road buy oil of different quantities enroute to the North and the South depending on the axis the person was going.

She was reluctant to speak to me as she directed me to return on two days’ time for Afor Obollo market day being on a Saturday to see oil for myself or visit Enugu Ezike. They buy 25 litres N8,500 . She said Nsukka oil is the best in Nigeria because they parboil it after engine processes to retain its natural taste which makes the Nsukka oil customers delight. She said some oil dealers in other states come to Nsukka for oil because if others prepare it , you still discover the engine taste or water taste in it but once it is from Nsukka , you get the best quality.

She informed that they buy the gallon and after the stress and hustle, they just make enough to feed their family and train them in school. She asked the government to intensify actions and intervene in cultivating palm trees particularly modern agric palm nuts with high yields. She said with high yielding agric palm plantations, prizes of oil can reduce to N4000 for 25 litres from palm oil famers and they after expenses can sell N6,000.

At last, when all hopes were lost, her daughter gave me her mother’s name as Agashi Evelyn, concluding that the oil sellers haver association that is strong in the markets but some retailers just do it to survive and belonged to no association even though some of their actions are guided by those in association.

I saw some oil merchants mixing storage oil with new oil for sell in Nsukka. It’s a serious business. They needed no distraction and wouldn’t speak but a lady managed to answer me that they were mixing it to get a deserved taste between the storage and the new arrival before selling to retain its customers without a complaint.

Nsukka oil Palm dealers

An 81kg bag of palm kernel sells for N8,000 and they sell to Enugu factories for producing soaps, perfumes etc. They buy in small quantities , say 25 bags and ferry to Enugu by bus.

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Palm Oil and palm kernel in Nkwo Achi, Orji River Council area

After two hours plus drive to Achi, an Oil seller, Chibuike Odike , Okpunoahani, Achi, says she buys a 25 liters of oil for N7,000 and sells for N8,000. She makes a gain of N1,000 and sometimes N500. She bemoaned the scarcity of oil. She said oil used to be N4,000 but rose to N6000 and N7000. She said the processes are no longer done manually but through modern machines. She hopes government can assist the palm oil dealers with soft loan to do the business at a larger scale to be able to export.

She buys from local oil processors and sell to other bigger retailers from other communities in Enugu, Anambra, South west and Northerners. She said her oil and oil from Achi tastes different from oil from the cities like Lagos and Abuja. She said local mills are not as greedy as merchants of death in the cities who reap where they did not sow. She warned people to be wary of the oil they buy in the market to avoid buying poison in the name of oil.

Emmanuel Emeh of Enuguagu, Achi told me that a bag of palm kernel sells for N1,800 while they buy it at N1, 700, and when they buy N1800, they sell N1900, making a gain of N100.

For Amaka Ubah, they buy the palm nuts while on their heads on top of the palm trees, then separate them from their palm heads to sell in bags. She said four bags of palm oil makes 20 litres of oil that costs N8,000 while 5 bags of palm oil makes 25 litres that sells for N9000. She lamented that the processes of preparing the oil is tedious despite that machine is now making it easier. She said it was after the crushing that the palm kernel would be separated from the oil and the urukpu akwu (chaff). Then, it would be parboiled and oil separated from water.

Mrs Bridget Mgbe, of Enuguakwu Achi said palm oil and palm kernel is their life and they depended on it for survival. She said they breadth and sleep palm oil and palm kernel.

Chairlady of the Palm nut sellers Association, Achi, Nwakaego Nze was specific when she said that the problems bedevilling oil palm production was lack of government interest in palm oil production. She said government should champion or encourage oil palm farmers to establish agric palm trees plantations as a measure to ensure enough production for steady of supply of good but cheap oil in the market.

She said such agric palm plantations would make oil production to be affordable in order to have enough for local consumption and export. She said if this is done, in seven years oil would be everywhere.

Chairman of Palm nut sellers Association, Achi , Reginald Madueke rather advised government to set prizing boards for palm oil to ensure after its intervention that prizes remained affordable and oil available. He decried lack of government attention to numerous agricultural produce coming from Achi like pineapple, cashew and palm trees for palm oil. He insisted that if there was regulated prizes for selling and buying, it would encourage business rather than the merchants prizing whatever they desired.

Achi palm oil market

For Eze Ejike, they supply palm kernel to companies like Innoson , Good Shell among others for processing for other uses. They extract the oil for making cosmetics etc and palm kernel cake for animal feeds. He believes the government has need to fix prizes for these economic produce to avoid frustrations in the hands of shylock merchants. He advocated for the establishment of a price control board.

Obinna Kenechukwu who has been in the palm kernel business for the past 30 years said an 80kg bag sells for N9000. They sell to Chikason Nnewi and other industries in Onitsha. He said before now he loads 10 tyres of lorry bags of palm kernel but hardly gets a bus load because according to him ‘people have opened their eyes’. He said people now go to the companies to sell their palm kernel themselves rather than rely on middlemen. He said now he hardly encounter farm produce monitors as it was previously.

Ebonyi state Palm oil

I was unable to get to Abakaliki at all but some phone calls confirmed that aside rice plantation that Ebonyi is known for producing and exporting palm kernel, palm oil, yam, livestock and poultry products.

Palm oil being our concern, I asked further and I was told that palm oil is available in any local market in Ebonyi state like Afor Ezza market , Nkwo Agu Isu Market in Onicha local government area, among others. There are oil mills including one at Owutu Edda among others.

Even, the Ebonyi Government has obtained N8 billion loan from some financial institutions to improve agricultural production in the state. That started in 2018 cropping season.

Then Commissioner for Agriculture and Natural Resources, Mr Ikechukwu Nwobo, said that the loan, which had low interest rates, would be given to genuine farmers and youths who intended to engage in agriculture.

“Our farmers can make more money by engaging in modern agricultural production, including poultry, snail, fishery piggery and farming’’, but he did not mention palm oil.

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“The state government has revolutionised the agricultural sector to make it, not only lucrative but also attractive,’’ he said.

Nwobo emphasised the commitment of the Gov. Dave Umahi-administration to restoring agriculture to its pride of place.

The commissioner pledged that the state government would partner with local and foreign investors who were willing to invest in the agricultural sector, adding that the government would provide an enabling environment for their enterprises.

Abia state palm oil and palm kernel

It appears Abia state is large in scale of preference in the business as almost every turn on the Enugu Port Harcourt highway in Abia axis is palm trees. Their business ideas too with the palm is encouraging too. There are pineapple, plantain and cocoa plantations too.

Neru village, Isuochi

Along the road to Lekwansi Obiuno, I met Emeka Ogbonna Obi supplying palm kernels in a truck which is N4,000 from Lomara. He told me that they supply several trucks a day depending on the strengths of their loaders. He said there were so many oil mills around Isuochi and other communities in Abia state.

At Neru junction, Okwuobasi Justice is an oil dealer and a cyclist. He told me that they sell 25 litres sometimes N7,500 and because of the rains , it got up to N9,000 and 4 litres N1,500. ‘There is no oil now because of rainfall’, he said. During May/June, and July it was N4,500 for 25 litres. He admitted that the oil they have now is storage. A pan of oil now is N1,500 against N700 when there is oil.

We supply oil to Northerners because we have good oil here. Good oil has no fibre inside. Any oil without fibre is good. I buy from mills and resell to make little profit. We have mills at Ihugbe , Lokpa Ukwu, and Ameoji among other places.

He claims that there are taskforce collecting revenue for government yet does nothing to improve the market. If you don’t pay they seize your farm produce.

Abia state government reacts, gives hope

The Abia State Government announced that it will stop depending on allocation from the federal government by the year 2020 as its investments in palm oil plantations would have started yielding enough revenue to sustain it.

Abia State’s Commissioner for Information, Mr. John Okiyi said this during a chat with the members of the Correspondents Chapel of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) in Umuahia.

Mr. Okiyi stated said that “government has so far planted 7.7 million high-yielding Tenera Palm seedlings, which will start yielding within the next three years.”

Mr. Okiyi also said the recent ranking of the state by the National Bureau of Statistics as a middle-class state was as fair enough, though the state has not gotten to the peak yet.

He said, “Abia will not rest on its oars, but determined to break new grounds until we are able to meet our dream for Abia. It shows that Abia has not been borrowing over the years and that we have also been prudent in the management of our limited resources.”

Seeds that currently seek to increase this yield of oil per hectare are cultivated by the application of biotechnology.

However, given its importance in terms of oil yield and area planted especially in countries like Malaysia, Indonesia, Nigeria, Thailand, Colombia, New Guinea, Cote d’Ivoire, Costa Rica, Honduras, Brazil, Ghana, Guatemala, and Nicaragua.

Consequently, the high production of palm oil in the world highlights the upward trend that has maintained the production of palm oil plants.

The new Commissioner for Agriculture, Prof Ikechi Mgbeoji has the mandate of the State Governor, Dr Okezie Ikpeazu to ensure agriculture becomes an established tool for economic development in the State development of the Ubani-Ibeku Agro Industrial Cluster in Umuahia which would house cassava processing plants and other key components of the agricultural value chain.

Governor Ikpeazu said that he expected the new Commissioner to ensure warehouses were built in Umuahia, Aba, Ohafia and other sub-towns in the State where Abia rice (Osikapa Abia) would be sold. He expressed joy that Abia State was improving in rice production, adding that he was passionate about recording increases in the production of other cash crops such as oil palm, cocoa, among others.

Already, an agribusiness model which would offer employment to over 7 million Nigerians nationwide has been launched in Abia Sate, code named Hectare by Hectare (HbH) programme.

Stakeholders listed in HbH are Farm to Home Agents involving those who participate in food and agricultural produce distribution using their mobile phones; Produce Aggregators who source for high quality agricultural produce such as honey and palm oil; Food Processors; Outgrowers (small scale farmers); Sub-Aggregators who secure contracts from food producers, food processors and resellers and Sub-Consolidators who provide their business premises for use as collection centres.

At the launch of the programme in Umuahia, Abia State Deputy Governor, Sir Ude Oko Chukwu, assured that the government would embrace it as agriculture was the way to go.

Initiator of HbH, Barrister Chijioke Orji, described it as a unique, innovative agricultural initiative, designed to afford all adult Nigerians opportunities to unleash their potentials in food production, wealth and job creation, thus partaking in the revitalization and realization of the nation’s urgent need for food security and wealth redistribution which would reduce crime rate.

……to be continued.

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