The next decade should be a decade for R&D in Oil Palm industry in India

Nasim Ali

By, Nasim Ali, Former CEO- Oil Palm Plantation unit, Godrej Agrovet Ltd.

Initially oil palm was first introduced in India as ornamental plant in 1885. Its stature in India was changed into a managed plantation cum first establishment of estate in Kerala in 1965 and subsequently in Andaman & Nicobar Islands in 1975. In both these places, oil palm was grown as rain fed crop. After successful experimentation by our ICAR Scientists, oil palm was brought under irrigated crop through contract farming commercially since 1988 onwards. Government of India made valuable decision by choosing oil palm cultivation through Small Holding (SH) farmers under irrigation as one of the high value crop. During first thirty years of oil palm development in India, the area expansion through SH farmers was slow due to various reasons but the foundation become stronger for future for oil palm in India and turned into an integrated industry from production to processing. The oil palm industry has made and will continue to contribute towards socio economic development.

Now, this is the time for oil palm industry and Researchers to meet the challenges faced by farmers through multipronged approach both in field and in laboratories with the assistance of suitable technologies and innovative approach, like introduction of Tissue Culture plants and its development indigenously, introduce Digital Technology in oil palm (based on long term data available with us), Real-time solution for farmers etc. Resource and intellectual efficiency should go hand to hand. Indian Institute of Oil Palm Research (IIOPR) is now 27 years old. The wealth of knowledge accumulated in IIOPR is complemented by other R&D and Technical institutes across India should able to meet the challenges faced by farmers and processors.

The key force driving the challenges in palm oil mill and field like “ZERO DISCHARGE”, “NET ZERO EMISSION”, conversion of Waste to Wealth, mechanisation of harvesting of Fresh Fruit Bunches (FFB), etc. – is the knowledge sharing by and between the industry and various R&D Institutes, based on specific requirement. This will finally ensure sustainability of oil palm industry in India as a whole through three important Pillars (3 P’s) –People, Planet & Profit, i.e. Socio economic up liftmen of People, maintain best Environment and Bio diversity equilibrium in this Planet Earth and improve Profit for Processor and oil palm growers.

The Indian oil palm industry has expanded over more than last three decades from 56 hectares in 1987-88 to 4.0 lakh hectares (approx.) in 2020-21. Crude Palm oil production has reached to 4.23 lakh tons (approx.) by March 2021.Whatever progress achieved was partly stimulated by progress in Research & Development (R&D). As per the report and claim made by IIOPR towards their significant contribution in the areas of hybrid production, Agronomical aspects and practices etc. – few examples are given below:

  • Developed three oil palm hybrids with high FFB yield and high oil yield per hectare under assured micro irrigation system and suitable for coastal ecosystem, namely: Godavari Swarna (NRCOP-4) can produce FFB yield @ 26.87 tons per hectare per year and oil yield @ 5.71 tons per hectare per year, Godavari Ratna ( NRCOP-2) can produce FFB yield @ 22.44 tons per hectare per year and oil yield @ 5.36 tons per hectare per year and Godavari Gold( NRCOP-17) can produce FFB yield @ 27.23 tons per hectare per year and oil yield @ 5.79 tons per hectare per year.
  • Standardised and perfected different oil palm based cropping systems like oil palm with Cocoa/ ginger / heliconia / bush pepper / ornamental crops etc. in mature plantation. The cost benefit ratio for such inter cropping system varied from 1:2.38 to 1:2.86 and net returns ranged from Rs. 1.02 lakh to Rs. 1.24 lakh per hectare
  • Oil palm based integrated farming system with fodder crops, diary and back yard poultry has been found to be most suitable and profitable system with cost benefit ratio of 1: 3.28
  • A unique computer aided Decision Support System (DSS) developed. This helps various stake holders and policy makers in taking appropriate decision quickly with respect to site selection for oil palm cultivation.
  • A static android mobile app on water requirement for oil palm developed for the benefit of farmers in the state of Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. This will help farmers to monitor water requirement and control water application for the crop effectively.

Researchers can translate the economic objectives into many types of research and development activities, like better agronomic practices, cost reduction for the farmers & processors, improve energy efficiencies, harvesting mechanisation and good & green environment. Presently oil palm developers and Processors (OPDP) in India are depending & concentrating on volume of Crude palm oil (CPO) and Crude Palm kernel oil (CPKO) production and market price only. But this could pose a serious threat in future due to price volatility, international price factors of other edible oils and fluctuated price of raw material (used for production of CPO&CPKO) payable to oil palm farmers. It is suggested to focus on R&D by the industry and orient it in such a manner that the vale addition takes place significantly out of 30-33% waste produced while processing FFBs. Unfortunately, hardly 0.1 to 0.2% of total revenue is spent towards R&D by few oil palm processors annually.

It is interesting to examine the economic rationale behind the development of value added products & by products, other than process improvement and other implications to producers and users. This will lead producers to improve their margin definitely .Moreover, gestation period for the processors in the major oil palm growing state of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana is over long ago.

There is a need for joint effort by IIOPR and Processors and independently by Processors as well to portray the definitive project work, based on actual requirement and also engage with various other R&D Institutes as well, like ICAR-Indian Institute of Oilseeds Research, Food Technology division of various Institutes, local Horticultural & Agricultural Institutes, and Engineering Institutes etc. to come out with solutions. In all research work, the use of pilot plant facilities has beneficial implications. Each processor should establish pilot plant accordingly for greater benefit. Research becomes a key factor for Indian Oil Palm Industry in enhancing Price-to- Earnings (P/E) ratio and development process in certain states where operation is still unviable.


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