The recent report that Nigeria imported palm oil worth N300 billion in six years is appalling and unacceptable. It is even scandalous and unthinkable that Nigeria, which used to be the highest exporter of palm oil in the 1960s, is now heavily dependent on imported palm oil.
According to a new report, Nigeria’s palm oil imports in the past six years stood as follows: 2017, N21.2billion; 2018, N32.2 billion; 2019, N19billion; 2020, N22billion; 2021, N134.7billiion; and 2022, N70.2 billion. This translates to N299.6billion.
A barrel of palm oil sells for $600 at the international market. Nigeria gets most of its supply of palm oil from Malaysia, India, China and Cameroon. According to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), palm oil ranks among the top five agricultural products imported into the country in spite of the fact that it was one of the items excluded from forex list in June 2015.
In 2017, Nigeria imported 302,000 metric tons of palm oil, according to the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Mr. Godwin Emefiele. It is paradoxical that Malaysia which collected its oil palm seedlings from Nigeria in the 1960s is now exporting the product to Nigeria. It is a sad commentary on the utter neglect of agriculture in the country by successive administrations. The discovery of crude oil and the oil boom era of the 1970s should be blamed for our abandonment of agriculture in pursuant of oil money and white collar jobs.
Before the discovery of crude oil in commercial quantities, agriculture was the mainstay of Nigeria’s economy. During the First Republic, agriculture was the major foreign exchange earner for the country and the highest employer of labour at over 70 per cent.
The Eastern Region depended so much on its palm oil produce, cassava and cashew nuts, while the Western Region leveraged so much on cocoa. Following the creation of the Mid-West Region in 1963, it depended on rubber plantation. Nigeria was among the highest world producers of groundnuts, palm produce, cocoa and rubber.
the story has drastically changed to the extent that we now import palm oil and some other agricultural products we used to be world highest exporters.
As a developing nation, we must retrace our steps and change the ugly narrative. We must go back to the land and prioritise agriculture and move towards agro-business. Palm tree from which palm oil is extracted for both industrial and domestic use is a native of West Africa. But it grows more liberally in Nigeria than any other country in the region. It is highly prominent in the South East, South South and parts of South West and North Central.
States within the palm oil belt should invest so much on the cash crop as a way of boosting their internally generated revenues. They can, once again, make Nigeria the highest exporter of palm oil in the world. Nigeria can earn more money from palm oil, cassava, groundnuts, cocoa and other agricultural products than crude oil.
Nigeria, without oil crusade, should aim at developing our agricultural resources which are sustainable. It is not late for so many Nigerian states to develop their agriculture and earn foreign exchange in return. This is perhaps the significance of the advice of former President, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, to Governor Charles Chukwuma Soludo to invest in agro-business during the marking of his one year in office. The former president urged Soludo to prioritise four key areas in agriculture such as cassava, palm oil, poultry and aquatic farming. Obasanjo’s advice is also applicable to many other states in the country. The country can as well profit from the advice of the former leader by developing its agriculture, especially agro-business.
While urging states within the oil palm belt to develop the cash crop as a way of stopping the unnecessary importation of palm oil into the country, the Federal Government has a vital role to play towards the development of our agriculture as a business enterprise.
The rejection of our agricultural products in the international market on account of poor quality and packing can be addressed if the government can provide the needed enablers in that direction. For Nigeria’s agriculture to transform to agro-business, there is urgent need for intervention funds from the CBN to grow palm oil, cassava, ‘uha’ leaves, cashew nuts and others, which are in high demand in the global market.