DECEMBER 29, 2010 23:35 IST
M. J. Prabu
FEELING THE HEAT: A farmer fells his oil palm plantations as an offshoot of price crash. Photo: G. Nagaraja
The Government project on oil palm is destroying the life of many growers
On the National Conference on Oil Palm at Vijayawada in Andhra Pradesh (the largest producer in the country), Mr. M.C. Rao, palm oil farmer, Gajapati district, Orissa, stated, “Just like several Government agricultural departments, officials at the conference painted a false, bright, and positive picture about the prospects of the oil palm plantation for farmers taking up this cultivation.”
“As usual the policy makers miserably failed to read the pulse of the farmers regarding the future prospects of this crop. Today many palm cultivators are ruing their decision, because the project devastated many and they accumulated huge losses by cultivating it,” he adds.
Former Prime Minister late Rajiv Gandhi wanted India to attain self sufficiency in palm oil production as the country during that time imported oil at a huge cost.
The government decided to encourage various forms of edible oil production, and several incentives instituted to attract farmers to take up the cultivation, and a special unit under the Department of Horticulture oversaw the production.
“But in 10 years the project failed miserably and oil palm farmers today have run up huge debts as they continued to grow the trees. The government policy is to be blamed for the fiasco. The price of FFB (fresh fruit branches) in 2008 was Rs. 6,500 per metric tonne and supposed to double in the next year or so. But, unfortunately it dropped to less than Rs. 4,000 in the ensuing years,” says Mr. Rao.
The aggrieved farmers approached the concerned authorities who seemed indifferent to their problem.
Since oil is abundantly available, “purchasing at a cheaper rate,” seems to be their attitude. Their argument, that the country needs to care for 110 crore consumers and not a mere four lakh oil palm farmers seems unjustified. Many farmers are deciding to abandon their existing plantation, and many are removing the trees,” he says sadly.
“Such a whimsical decision from the authorities can create a serious problem for the farmers,” he cautions.
“The increase in the import of the oil palm will hit the economy as we might not be able to meet the rate demands by foreign countries. Astonishingly, edible oil import cost to the country presently stands at Rs. 26,000 crore per annum.
“This figure will climb further due to reduced oil palm production in the country and an increase in per capita oil consumption,” adds Mr. Rao.
At present palm oil from Indonesia, Malaysia, Nigeria, Papua New Guinea, Costa Rica, and Mauritius are flooding the Indian markets leaving the local growers in a mess.
“Palm is a product that cannot be consumed by the common man, nor is there any demand for it except for production of oil.
“As the Indian manufacturers buy the oil from other countries at cheaper rates, our farmers cannot meet the competition. While the industry demanded the palm oil seeds at Rs. 4 a kg, we are selling it at Rs. 7 or more per kg to make some profit,” he explains.
Same old advice
Experts are advising farmers to go in for inter crop plantation like maize, banana, tubers, and cocoa to get them additional benefits from their fields.
But the farmers who are already squeezed financially are not in a position to accept this for two reasons - namely an increase in investment, and the other being unpredictable attitude of the officers in the agriculture ministry, according to him.
For more details readers can contact Mr. M.C. Rao at Venkatapuram village, Tidigam Panchayat, Kasinagar block, Gajapati district, Orissa, phone: 08946-211026 (res) and mobile: 08895962391.