Due to the ever-increasing demand for edible oils in India, palm oil has become more essential to match the requirements and provide food security. The Government of India introduced “The National Mission on Edible Oils-Oil Palm (NMEO-OP)” in August 2021, with the sole object of encouraging domestic oilseeds production and increasing the area under oil palm (OP) cultivation aggressively through farmers across various states in India. The Government of India has substantially increased the subsidies for ongoing components and inputs required for cultivation.
For the first time, the Government introduced a viability price of fresh fruit bunches (FFBs) as assured returns to OP growers under NMEO-OP. The mission proposed to cover an additional 6.5 lakh hectares (ha.) under OP by FY 2025-26 with a special focus on North-East States. It is a very ambitious target. More than two years passed since NMEO-OP was introduced, and this is the time to review the progress now.
There is a good response from farmers, and acreage under cultivation reasonably improved compared to the earlier period. The desired level of progress is yet to occur from FY21-22 to the middle of FY 23-24. During this period, achievement towards the total area brought under OP on an all-India basis is hardly 1.16 lakh ha. tentatively. Out of this, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana jointly brought 82,177 ha during the corresponding period. This envisages good progress and development for a sustainable, resilient economy for all oil palm stakeholders in Andhra Pradesh (AP) and Telangana. There is no unanimity on the matter, and it is the reality. Based on the progress trend from FY21-22 to now, achieving area coverage under OP on an all-India basis during FY 21-22 to FY 23-24 may be around 50% of the target fixed under NMEO-OP.
Reason and real Concern
The lack of optimum progress, specifically in N-E states and other States (except AP and Telangana) during the period under report, is due to various reasons: delay in fresh allotment of districts to various companies in the states including N-E States, establishment of nurseries and its growing period (including lead time) is around 18 months or more prior to supply of seedlings to interested growers. It is also true that farmers in new areas/ states follow the principles of “wait and watch” and “seeing is believing”.
A few relevant and important issues also need to be addressed, such as farm mechanisation in oil palm in States such as AP and Telangana where large-scale plantations exist, infrastructure development in N-E states on priority etc.
Cautions and suggestions
Oil palm companies should not be keen to sell the seedlings to anyone they can. Otherwise, it will be a disaster. Success stories of oil palm, as evidenced in AP and Telangana, need to be projected aggressively by the State Department of agriculture/horticulture in all other States in association with processors. Selection of farmers having required resources, bringing effective area under cultivation through cluster approach etc. are critical and the only mantra to make the programme successful. The government of Telangana and AP have made it mandatory for the installation of micro-irrigation systems at the time of planting or immediately after planting by farmers and support in the form of subsidies provided to farmers. Other States also should enact this. Similarly, to realise the potential of oil palm in N-E States, there is a need for long-term focus spanning 12-15 years.
A professional core committee under the purview of the Government should be formed to review the half-yearly progress physically and the committee should suggest the Government for course correction, if any. Robotic solutions towards harvesting FFBs and infusion of Artificial intelligence (AI) towards reliability and efficiency to oil palm operations are in a transition stage. It may take time, but it is not far. Therefore, the focus must be on what appears essential and urgent that matters, as every action from all sides and corners counts. It is the time to review to capture ground reality and move ahead. I am confident that our industry will strike the goal of achieving self-sufficiency in edible oil production in India through oil palm cultivation.
The author is former CEO- Oil Palm Plantation, Godrej Agrovet Ltd., Views expressed are personal.