A NEW VISION FOR OIL PALM INDUSTRY

BY DONS EZE

A few days ago, I was privileged to undertake a facility visit, along with some of my colleagues, to an oil palm plantation, at the outskirts of Enugu Coal City, Ngwo, to be precise.

The first port of call was the nursery section of the farm, where thousands of palm seedlings were seen sprouting up. From the nursery farm, we moved to the over 70 heactre palm plantation at a slope overseeing Ugwu Onyeama, along Enugu-Onitsha Expressway, with hundreds of newly planted palms growing luxuriously.

These palm trees have double effect. One, they will help to protect the area from menacing erosion, and two, they will necessarily become a source of much needed revenue when they begin to fruit.

Ozo Eric Ozongwu, the man behind the project, or Chairman, Nonet Oil Palm Plantation and Milling Company Nig. Ltd., said during the visit that in addition to the 70 heactre palm plantation at Ngwo, the company has over 300 heactre farmland at Ihuonyia, Amansiodo Oghe, in Ezeagu Local Government Area of Enugu State.

He explained that the Ihuonyia palm plantation project was a tripartite partnership between the Nonet Oil Plantation and Milling Company Nig. Ltd, some families of Ihuonyia Community, as well as the individual investors.

With 82 people currently working in the plantation, the Company is building an entirely new Community in the area, with residential houses, schools and markets, while the economy of the area was being boosted as the workers always patronize the local market.

According to him, investors could become part of the plantation through subscription, by indicating the number of heactres they need, pay specified amounts of money as registration fee, development levy (clearing and land preparation), annual rental fee, cost of oil seedlings, protective control, fire tracing, fertilization, etc.

Ozongwu revealed that the palm seedlings were of Malaysia/Australia origin, known as Elaeis Guineesis/Yangambi oil palm seed, the world’s highest yielding edible oil crop that produces crude palm oil and palm kernel oil four times more than Tenera (Nigeria’s best producing palm tree), and that within two years after planting, it would start fruiting and would yield till the next 60 years.

The new palm seed, he said, produces fresh fruit bunches between 27 to 32 palm heads per year, and up to 72 tons of fresh fruit bunches per heactre in a year, while the palm tree is unique, as it could be harvested while standing, within the first ten years of fruiting without climbing the tree.

Ozongwu who is a professional accountant, said he was attracted to the new breed of palm seedlings when he visited Malaysia, and he decided to leave his accounting job to go into palm business. He then went into partnership with oil palm research institutes in Malaysia/Australia.

He expressed optimism that within the next two to three years when the palm trees would start fruiting, resources from the plantation would greatly boost the economic base of the state and the country at large.

Ozongwu said he foresaw a situation where in the next few years, oil palm would begin to drive the economy of the state, and called on investors to invest in palm plantation since there are rich and abundant land lying idle in the state.

Eastern Nigeria is a palm tree belt. Thousands of palm trees grow naturally in the area, which produce both palm oil and palm kernel. During the colonial period, earnings from palm produce cc were the financial backbone of the administration. That was what motivated the colonial government, in April 1949, to establish the Eastern Region Oil Palm Produce Marketing Board, which handled the export of oil palm related produce in the country.

The Oil Palm Produce Board transferred funds to the Eastern Regional Production and Development Company (ERPDC) for the establishment of pioneer oil mills, gave grants to the Eastern Nigeria Finance Corporation (ENFC), and provided the takeoff grant for the establishment of the University of Nigeria.

In 1954, the Eastern Region Marketing Board which acquired most of the assets of the Nigeria Oil Palm Produce Marketing Board was created, and from then onward, responsibilities of the board began to change. Surplus funds were accumulated and used to finance public and private institutions in the East.

Apart from grants to the regional development and finance company, the Eastern Nigeria Marketing Board, driven essentially by palm oil produce, also invested in the African Continental Bank and the Nigerian Cement Company at Nkalagu.

If our people and the government will key into this new vision of oil palm business embarked upon by Ozo Eric Ozongwu, it will greatly enhance the economic well being of the state. Compared with crude petroleum, palm oil has higher value in international market.

The late Group Captain Sampson Emeka Omeruah, former Military Governor of old Anamba State, envisioned great potentials in oil palm industry, when he began his “Farm for Farm” project in the 1980s. But the project was discontinued when Omeruah left office, so it died a natural.

The consequence was that at the of every month, cap in hand, we would be in Abuja, begging for fund, without which we would not execute a single project.

Dr. Dons Eze, KSJI

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