About 2.7 million hectares (ha) of potential area in India have been identified by the government agency for oil palm cultivation through farmers. Special focus is given to bring more area under Oil Palm in a short span of time, under the “National Mission on Edible Oils-Oil Palm ( NMEO-OP)” launched on 18 August 2021 by the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare( MoA & FW), Government of India.

There is a shift in cropping pattern in Indian agriculture, like conventional crops to cash crops or commercial crops. This is crop diversity. Oil palm is one of the best examples. Among various commercial crops, Oil palm cultivation in various parts of India is getting priority, and area expansion under oil palm through small, medium & large farmers are taking place.

Assured return and income Security: Oil palm provides assured return to the farmers throughout the year since there is a buyback guarantee of their produce by the processor under the control of the Government. With the increase in age of the crop, commercial yields start and increase from the fourth year onwards and the maximum yield of fresh fruit bunches (FFBs)-20 tonnes or more per hectare per year gets stabilised in the 9th year and continues. This helps in increasing farmers’ income. The economic life of the crop is around 30 years.

GAVL project

Agricultural issues created by environmental stress have been directly impacting the farmer’s income. During October- November 2020, Godrej Agrovet Ltd. (GAVL) introduced superior quality high-yielding oil palm seedlings raised out of semi-clonal seeds, sourced from Malaysia. These seedlings were distributed to farmers of around 160-170 ha. under the GAVL factory zone in West Godavari District, Andhra Pradesh on pilot scale. It is expected that yielding FFBs out of this high-yielding variety will start from 2024 onwards. Higher yield will improve the earnings of farmers.

There is good scope to enhance the present yield by one and a half to two times per hectare per year with the introduction of semi-clonal/clonal plant material in India, specifically in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana to start with where farmers embraced oil palm crop successfully and sustainably. Productivity improvement will reduce the cost of production per unit area. The oil palm industry should keenly observe all technological breakthroughs and remain open to adapting them. Oil Palm, being an edible oil crop, will provide food security to India in future which is beyond doubt.

Climate Change

There is growing concern across the world regarding climate change and the issue of depletion of groundwater level and soil health. This can be addressed well, if we are able to use our water resources, crop waste, and mill wastes effectively, judiciously, and technically. For example, the crop per drop of water concept through micro-irrigation which is the game changer, recycling of crop residue and re-using mill wastes, like empty fruit bunches (EFBs) and treated palm oil mill effluents (POME) - ploughing it back to the soil to improve soil fertility and productivity.

As of now, more than 70 per cent oil palm growers in India have adopted drip/micro irrigation systems in the field, whereas in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, it is more than 96 per cent. Credit goes to farmers, processors, IIOPR, and the government at State and Central levels for the initiatives taken and support provided towards micro irrigation system installation in oil palm field. Fortunately, the Indian oil palm industry has not been witnessing any major untoward incident towards environmental imbalance in this regard.

A regenerative farming system in oil palm is possible through I R R R - Increasing the crop yield through the introduction of high-yielding oil palm seedlings, recycling crop residue in the field, re-use mill waste both in the field & in the mill, reducing the cost of cultivation through integrated Management.

Practices: Once we adapt regenerative farming system in the field of oil palm, our focus becomes effective in building the resilience of agroecosystems.

The author is former CEO-Oil Palm Plantation, Godrej Agrovet Ltd. Views are personal