The Malaysian palms were grown from seedlings from Amsterdam.
The Nigerian Institute for Oil Palm Research, NIFOR, has debunked insinuations that Malaysia obtained its first palm fruits/seedlings from Nigeria.
The Director of Production at the institute, Christy Okwuagwu, denied the rumour while conducting media fellows round the institute’s research projects in Benin on Friday. The fellows were sponsored by the ‘Biosciences for Farming in Africa’, an international non-profit organisation and the facility visit was aimed at assessing the level of research on oil palm at the institute.
Ms. Okwuagwu said on the sidelines of the visit that Malaysia couldn’t have taken seedlings from Nigeria through NIFOR because the country was advanced in oil palm production before the establishment of NIFOR.
“It is a story that is always carried around that Malaysia came to NIFOR to get seeds and now Malaysia has overtaken Nigeria. There is no way to assume that Malaysians came to Nigeria and got planting material and now they have overtaken us, they never did. People say it carelessly and they believe it. This is one of the very basic information I want to debunk in every situation because we know truly that it was through the Dutch expedition that the Malaysians had this planting material in the 19th century. NIFOR actually existed because of the threat that Malaysia posed to a continuous exploitation of wild grooves,” she said.
Ms. Okwuagwu, who is the oldest scientist in the institute, also backed up her claim with historical references.
She showed evidence through the documentations of a book titled “The Oil Palm,” authored by R.H.V. Corley and P.B. Tinker.
“The earliest record of introduction of palms into South East Asia was first seedlings planted in Bogo Botanical Garden in 1848 in Jaba in the Dutch East Indies. Two of these were from Amsterdam Botanical Garden but it is not known how they originated, the other two from Mauritius in the Indian Ocean. The palms that sprang from these four seedlings were all quite similar and it has been supposed that they were all originally produced from Amsterdam, through some African unknown origin. These four seedlings formed the entire source of the planting material in Malaysia. That is why we say that the entire population of the planting material in Malaysia are very narrow genetic base; we don’t normally depend entirely on them for breeding and development. Actually, it is necessary that they depend on us and subsequent materials to improve their planting material.
“The original materials never came from Nigeria; they came from Dutch expedition of the early 19th century. And because of the fact that the crop had economic advantage in their land, they started multiplying these seedlings and raising them as plantation crops; they don’t have natural populations; this is the source of everything in South East Asia,” Ms. Okwuagwu explained.
For Nigeria, the director said policy instability and inadequate funding and land provision were the major factors militating against the growth of the oil palm industry.
“African countries are being characterized with instability of policies. This instability of policies and development have hindered the progress in plantation development. Concerted efforts have not been made over the years. The industry in this country has not grown in comparison to the rate at which recent development has grown; the oil boom became a doom because palm produce became relatively unimportant to our total economic well-being. We are totally dependent on petroleum and so efforts to establish plantations and go forward with this crop will not grow.
“Irregular interventions do not sustain development; this crop which is native to us we have not done it the good that we should have done to it; other countries, who have embraced it, have seen progress. Our environment is not the best compared to South East Asia; but we have planting materials which are so good and their yield are very comparable to the average yield in South East Asia. It is to get the industry committed to the development of this crop,” she said.
She further called for the resuscitation of all economic crops in the country to boost Nigeria’s foreign exchange.
“People should go into plantation development, it stabilizes the environment. We are talking about pollution, ozone depletion, the oil palm is one single crop that cleanses the environment. Malaysia prides itself as one of the best environments in the world because everywhere is green, the tree has a beautiful shading effect against the ozone.
“I am making a clarion call that people should please go back to our heritage. `Let the groundnut pyramids come up in the North; let the cocoa boom come to the West while in the East and in the Mid-West, let the oil palm industry thrive. The goodness of it is that the oil palm has grown beyond the East and Mid-West; Nasarawa is a beautiful example.
“Taraba – the whole strip along the Mambilla is excellent, just like the same in Malaysia, good soil, good rainfall, excellent soil but people are not planting; people should please go back to our heritage.”