Palm oil plantations changing southern Nigeria: One of Africa’s Most Promising Oil River Wealth
For hundreds of years, palm oil plantations gave Nigeria a unique comparative advantage the world over.
This cash crop came to represent the pride of Nigeria’s densely populated southern riverine region. From 1800s through early 1900s, Nigeria’s southern region dominated the global supply of palm oil.
Record has it that trading between the white traders and the riverine tribes including Efik, Ijaw, Ibibio, Ikwere and Igbo people dates as far back as the 17th century.
Palm oil and palm kernel were among the usual items traded by the Nigerian farmers with European merchants.
It is estimated that the wonder crop brought together millions of Nigerian palm tree growers, rural traders, village cooperatives, sea faring middlemen, coastal trading houses and European merchants to enjoy one of the longest period of sustained economic growth in West Africa’s history.
A wonder crop that keeps giving. It lifted many poor farmers out of poverty and helped position Nigeria as one of the great food basket on the continent.
No doubt from 1600s, oil palm business enabled West Africa’s coastal communities emerge as one of the leading trading outposts for cash crops and rare minerals on the planet.
This was the age of global maritime travel.
European merchant ships dock in the Niger delta and then intense trade negotiations began.
Nigeria’s southern tip emptied into Atlantic ocean within the West African coastal zone referred to as the Gulf of Guinea.
The Gulf of Guinea encircles Nigeria’s southern region in its easternmost side referred to as the Bight of Biafra.
This southern region became a global agro-commodity market spectacle. A playground for some of the world’s most sought out palm produce.
Nigeria’s southern region was dubbed oil river zone.
Palm oil brought enormous grassroot economic mobility, strengthened village institutions and enabled social cohesion across Nigeria’s vast southern countryside.
This remains one of the most enduring economic legacy in the then emerging West African business community. This was before the Niger delta and surrounding lands began exploring crude oil.
Until the 1930s, Nigeria was the largest palm oil producer in the world.
It helped position Africa as one of the great food-producing frontiers. It could well explain the unique economic potential Africa’s agro-allied industries still hold today.
Through a complex network of palm industries, thousands of Nigerian farmers were pulled out of poverty. This constantly exciting and growing palm oil enterprises caught the interests of European nations. And the so called economic migration to West Africa took a new turn.
From palm plantations and oil mills, to coastal trading houses that set the economic tone for where west Africa is headed, and the village entrepreneurs and sea faring tribesmen transporting the wonder crop from Nigeria’s inner southern reaches, palm oil had a uniquely transformative power on the African continent.
It was the forerunner of the 21st century African rising narrative.
But European aggressive interests in cash crops and rare minerals, among other things, undoubtedly led to a dark period in Africa’s history. The scramble for Africa.
European colonization and subsequent plunder of the continent’s natural resources had a wounding effect on the people. Something Nigeria’s southern farmers regret and lament till this day. For home-grown institutions suffered.
An elaborate network of African village farming cooperatives, local councils, middlemen and coastal trading houses almost gave way in favor of European styled institutions. This will disrupt the uniquely African business community for more than a century.
Through it all, one of the most captivating narrative ever put forth about Africa re-emerged. The legend is rooted in the understanding that the continent’s vast fertile lands, woodlands, remote forests, endless plains and deep reaches are still largely untapped.
An enormous treasure chest for generations to come.
With teeming highly educated young populations coming of age and a critical mass of creative thinking tribesmen, Africa is gradually finding her calling. It is God-given. It is a indicative of things to come.
Though painful memories endure for a time, there is an unstinting belief that the continent is on the rise. It will rise to fulfill its predestined role in a world in desperate need of enduring change.
In Nigeria, agriculture is rooted in millions of small farm holders. They are the golden generation that held sway through difficult times including the European colonization to the age of military regimes and democratic governments embattled with runaway corruption.
An ancient farming tradition handed down from father-to-son. It is said that 80 percent of palm oil production from Nigeria is attributed to small family farms scattered mainly in the southern states.
It is these ancient farming families that hold the key to the economic boom to come. Though they rely mainly on ancient wild palm plants and manual processing tools, southern tribesmen have managed to keep Nigeria on track as a promising oil-palm producing nation.
Although it is worth noting that Nigeria’s global market share in oil palm production remains below 5 percent as at 2016. A far cry from the 1800s and early 1900s when nearly half of the world’s oil palm production came from Nigeria.
Southern Nigeria with its farming potential remains a viable front-line for oil palm economic ventures. Its tropical climate has uniquely sustained oil palm plantations, other cash crops, woodlands and rain forests for centuries.
Nigeria’s millions of small farm holders is indicative of continuing future greatness in the oil palm industries. They are slowly but steadily paving the way for other economic branches, including palm industrial plants and high-tech enterprises.
For example, in Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country, the domestic market for vegetable oil refining plants is worth billions of dollars annually.
Many packaged foods on shelves like margarine, noodles, bread and chocolate consumed by Nigeria’s population of over 170 million people require extracting and refining raw materials in oil palm.
The vegetable oil refining industry remains one of the next big thing in Nigeria’s emerging food industry.
Millions of small farm holders together with big palm corporations and foreign investors now have food and non-food applications of oil palm.
Next generation investments in biofuel and energy generation has began to transform the oil palm-allied industries like never before.
For example, in 2008, Fri-El Green Power, a European biofuel energy company, began reviving large oil palm plantations in Nigeria’s southern state of Abia for onward export to Europe where power plants harness the oil for electricity generation.
This high-tech oil palm investments have largely gone unnoticed. Should they expand involving small farm holders then something special will happen.
You have local and foreign investors building common interests and investment opportunities in biofuel technology can transform southern Nigeria.
This can bring electricity to rural communities where the oil palms are extracted, more jobs, exchange of expertise and the explosion of home-grown entrepreneurs daring to seize the opportunity.
Then with a critical mass of creative thinking tribesmen coming of age, the race is on. You are looking at a southern region that will find new ways to transform oil mills to produce at mega capacity to meet different needs.
Morning in Nigeria is coming.
Millions of small farm holders will set the new frontier on the African continent. We are beginning to see the sheer determination of millions of small farm holders come together. Many now dream good dreams.
Some can produce refined oil suitable for industrial plants in making finished products including detergents, soap, shampoo, industrial chemicals and bio-diesel.
Nigeria’s food industry are gradually doing away with import of refined raw materials from Asia and Europe that should be sourced locally. This movement is slowly taking root. And its time will come.
Nigeria’s government may well become a quiet player in the oil palm industry. It is just about timing. As small farm holders successfully transform the palm industry they will steer government into action.
Government will have to forge partnership with village entrepreneurs and cooperatives and then engage big foreign investors when the going gets clearer.
For when it comes to palm kernel and palm oil, it is the small farm holders that really make the difference.
They have been tested for centuries and never turned their back on the humble heritage of their ancestors. Even when government and foreign partners struggled.
It is the unique doggedness only heaven can give.
They have in them the DNA and courage to inspire Africa and quiet possibly someday help feed the world. Nigeria is on the rise. And you should take notice.
South west Nigeria and some northern states are taking to oil palm. Cocoa has defined southwest Nigeria for hundreds of years. But they are working to take palm oil investment to another level.
Then northern Nigeria is just getting started. A region rich in corn, groundnut and cotton farming for centuries. Who knows what oil palm investments can do for northern Nigeria. Time will tell.