Obaseki Unveils Plan for 47,000-hectare New Oil Palm Plantation

The Edo State Governor, Mr. Godwin Obaseki, has unveiled plans for the launch of phase 2 of the State’s Oil Palm Programme (ESOPP) with an additional 47,000 hectares of land to be allocated to new and prospective oil palm investors.

ESOPP, launched in 2019, is an initiative of the Obaseki-led administration to de-risk the oil palm value chain by providing contiguous land to investors for sustainable production aimed at creating employment.

It is also meant to improve the livelihood of members of the project communities, and regenerating the state’s forest belt.

With over 70,000 hectares of land currently under cultivation, its first phase has attracted upwards of $500 million in investment, the largest of its kind in sub-Saharan Africa.

Obaseki while speaking during a meeting with the Chief Executive Officer Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), Joseph ‘JD’ D’cruz, with other investors in oil palm in the State, at the Government House, Benin City, said the ESOPP Programme, among other things, was aimed at addressing deforestation in the State.

According to the governor: “We are starting ESOPP 2 and will be launching that next month. We are doing 47,000 hectares of land in the first instance. We will be using the learning from ESOPP 1 for ESOPP 2. I believe prospective investors for ESOPP 2 are here.

“Our programme is not for acquisition of land but how to help you invest in oil palm and reduce the risk involved, encouraging you, our investors, to come into the State to do business.

 “We emphasise the key advantage of the ESOPP programme which is to use oil palm to reforest. This is the unique thing about the ESOPP Programme which doesn’t cut down trees but goes to areas that have been deforested and where we cannot regenerate those forests into its natural state, we use oil palm as an interim zero-carbon idea to restore the environment.

“Oil palm has been demonstrated to be one of the most prolific edible fats in the world. In many parts of the world, people are not cutting down trees to grow oil palm.  This informed our policy and strategy in Edo State as we decided to invest in the key competitive and comparative advantages. Edo is the home of natural oil palm.

“This crop is indigenous to us as a State and this is key. We have been talking about diversifying Nigeria’s economy for the last 40 years. We see this programme as an opportunity to demonstrate how diversification of the economy can occur.”

Speaking on efforts by his administration to diversify the state’s economy, the governor noted that to achieve this, the government has worked hard to create the enabling environment for investors, removed bottlenecks, and encouraged them as well as creating the market for them.

“We have taken interest in oil palm production and followed RSPO through because of the bigger picture of diversifying our economy which is a large one. We must focus on agriculture as the mainstay, fast-tracking and uplifting the productivity from agriculture which has a huge value chain.

“In time past, we had a well-structured system as agriculture was our mainstay. We had connecting roads before the civil war and produced, while buyers went to communities to buy from farmers directly. We had a very integrated and well-planned agricultural chain.

“It was a well-structured system at that time because our foreign exchange earnings relied on the ability to get the commodity to the Port for export but that culture has been lost,” he stated.

Reiterating the need for improved public-private partnership to achieve the desired growth in the agriculture sector, Obaseki said: “Within government, our agriculture functions are very weak as agronomy has refused to work with government.

“We have not invested in the capacity to direct agriculture to where we want it to be. For us to make Nigeria an agricultural nation, the private sector has a huge role to play, bringing the technical capacity to achieve this.

“Capacity is key. So, the Edo State Government is building capacity through the College of Agriculture in the State, impacting knowledge and improving capacity. We are going through food inflation as a Country because we are not growing enough.”

The Chief Executive Officer of Saro Group of Companies and Chairman of ESOPP Agro Allied Limited, Mr. Rasheed Sarumi, while commending the governor for creating the right environment to support businesses and investment inflow, said investors in Edo State have used the State as a business case of how they can have transformation in Nigeria, led by government sticking to policies and leaving business for business people.

On his part, the Chief Executive Officer of Foremost Development Services Limited, an intermediary Organisation to RSPO in Nigeria,  Fatai Afolabi said Edo State today is the number one oil palm producing State in Nigeria.

He said: “Today, Edo State is the number one oil State in Nigeria contributing about 12 per cent to the aggregate palm oil production in Nigeria while the closest is contributing about 5 to 8 per cent. This is the progress the State has made between now and when the governor made his commitment to develop oil palm.”

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