Okomu Oil Palm wants central bank to review anchor borrowers programme

Okomu Oil company has given out cheques of N90,000 each to no fewer than 35 students of tertiary institutions from about 20 host communities in three local government areas where it operates in Edo.

Okomu Oil Palm Company Plc. wants a review of CBN’s Anchor Borrowers Programme (ABP) to accommodate more farmers and to shore up the nation’s foreign earnings from agriculture.

The ABP is targeted at smallholder farmers engaged in the production of rice, maize, wheat and cash crops like oil palm, cocoa and rubber, among others.

Speaking with newsmen on Monday in Benin, Okomu Oil’s Managing Director, Dr Graham Hefer, noted that cash crop farmers were yet to fully benefit from the programme.

He said food crop farmers had an edge because they could cultivate, harvest, sell and repay their loans within the specified one year period.

“It is easy for farmers engaged in annual crops to meet their targets.

“This doesn’t happen with cash crops because in the first three years of oil palm production, you are unable to break even as the tree doesn’t produce one fruit.

“You only begin to break even normally between five years and seven years in oil palm production. And that is a long time.

“This is what we want the bank to understand so that it starts to grant long-term loans under the programme.

“We have spoken to CBN, but it seems it doesn’t understand how cash crop production works,’’ he lamented.

Hefer, however, expressed delight at the involvement of some non-governmental organisations which filling the gaps.

“Their involvement may provide an insight for CBN to take a lead from there.

“We are hoping that their involvement may generate more interest for the CBN since the NGOs seem to be successful at what they do. It’s certainly work in progress,’’ he said.

Hefer also told newsmen that “the company is ready to assist farmers or associations who get loans to be properly trained on how to plant, when to plant and other farming techniques that will improve and guarantee high yields.

“We can also pay the farmers a percentage of their harvest, so that they can begin the process of repayment of their loans and also earn an income.

“This will invariably make both the CBN and the NGOs become happy as they recoup their monies,’’ he said.

Hefer said Okomu Oil spent about N200 million in 2020 to provide basic social amenities in its host communities as Corporate Social Responsibility.

He blamed the COVID-19 pandemic as responsible for the company’s tough operating environment.

“Last year, we had to spend money on palliatives because the lockdown occasioned by the Coronavirus prevented people in our host communities from going about their normal businesses.

“What the company did was to order truckloads of foods and `banga’ (soup ingredients for delicacies native to the region) so that they could feed during the lockdown. These were some of the things we spent our money on last year, the said.

“In the last 323 days, thank God we have not had COVID-19 positive case on the plantation.

“We also held an interactive session with host communities including critical stakeholders last week to appraise our operations and straighten out grey areas of better future working relationships,’’ Hefer said.

He stressed that the relationship between the company and its host communities had been harmonious and attributed the stride to transparent communication built on trust.

“We have effectively managed to utilise the offices of our Communications Officers and that of our Community Liaison Officers to quickly resolve any dispute.

“This largely accounts for the fact that anytime certain self-styled environment activists try to peddle falsehood about the company’s operations, the more than 20 host communities literally speak out the truth to disparage those false alarms,’’ he said.

Hefer also told newsmen that the land border closure by the Federal Government in 2020, yielded positive results for the oil palm industry as well as for other agriculture commodities.

“Federal Government’s closure of the land borders, recently reopened, was quite commendable because it addressed wholesale dumping of illegal and substandard goods on Nigerians.

“The closure cleared the system of illegal activities of smugglers. But in terms of going forward, we are yet to see what happens again.

“Since the reopening of the borders in January, we have not seen any illegal activity yet, but we are cautiously optimistic that things will remain like that,’’ he said.

Okomu Oil Palm Company Plc., with headquarters at Okomu, near Benin, currently cultivates 26,396 hectares of oil palm and rubber.

Of these, the company cultivates 19, 061 hectares of oil palm trees and 7, 335 hectares of rubber trees spread across Ovia South West, Ovia North East and Uhunmwode Local Government Areas of Edo.

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