Business Day | 31 May 2022
by Josephine Okojie
In a bid to boost local palm oil production in the country and also support the Federal Government’s backward integration policy, JB Farms Limited has unveiled its new 10,000 hectares of oil palm plantation in Ore, Ondo State.
The oil palm plantation will employ no fewer than 10,000 direct and 30,000 indirect workers, according to the organisation.
The farm will produce fruits, process them into crude palm oil, and vegetable oil, and produce palm kernel oil and cake in a complete value chain development that the Ondo state government said would bring rapid economic, and social development to the state.
Rotimi Akeredolu, governor of Ondo State while unveiling the farm, planted the first tree. To encourage commercial farming, the governor said his administration had allocated 70,000 hectares of land to agribusiness investors following their seriousness and commitment to agribusiness.
“This is a farm that we are projecting to stand on a total land area of 10,000 hectares and more and this is just the first one and I believe that it will be more than this. I am saying this because we are on a path to uncover the effects of having this farm,” he said.
He hinted that Okitipupa Oil Palm, established by late Obafemi Awolowo, was in the process of revitalisation but encumbered by some challenges, urging parties concerned to cooperate with the government.
“However, it dawned on us that we could not own the farm. Then we realised that things were not going as planned, so we decided to channel our focus elsewhere. We must all come together to plan and re-strategise so as not to render Okitipupa Oil Palm Plc dormant,” he said.
He expressed appreciation to the farm owner for making the state his investment destination, saying that the establishment of the plantation and processing mill will facilitate job creation in Ondo.
“We are committed to improving and multiplying the production of three crops such as cocoa, oil palm, cashew, rubber, and coffee. These strategies are also to improve the means of livelihood of the people of Ondo.”
The governor hinted at the Red Gold initiative, which he said is to maximise oil palm production as one of the highest revenue earners for the government.
Akerodolu added that the state is determined to develop its internally generated revenue and agriculture is assessed as the best sector, especially the tree crop subsector, as the way forward.
Speaking also, Ajibola Adebutu, founder and managing director of JB Farms Limited, commended the state for creating an enabling environment for investors. He disclosed that there was no inducement or demand for any form of gratification from the government officials working to facilitate the project.
Narrating how the state facilitated the agricultural project, Adebutu said: “We have been operating out of Ogun State for quite a while and we have been looking for opportunities to expand our operations. We reached out to one or two other states and they were not interested. But one fateful day last year, I had the opportunity to meet Rotimi Akeredolu.
“And, I prepared all my speech and I sat in front of him and I gave the best of speech I have ever given in my life, and when I finished all my story, he said: ‘there is something wrong with your presentation,” my heart sank and he said, “you are the one who wants to come and invest in my state, I should be the one begging you and not you begging me,” he said.
The agro-investor commended the governor for not underestimating his capacity as an indigenous player and forgiving his firm an opportunity.
Adebutu disclosed that the 10,000-hectare plantation would be developed within five years as projected, and the firm intends to employ between 8,000 and 10,000 people working directly on the plantation.
“Now, we have been here for about just over eight months and we have been able to clear just over 1,500 hectares of land, which we will start to plant by the beginning of June once the rains are steady.”
He noted that there have been challenges, “but by the grace of God, we have been able to suppress them and we pray that very soon, we will come back for another programme when the whole estate will be developed and we will be dedicating our 60-ton/hour mill.” He said agriculture holds the key to the prosperity and sustainable future of Nigeria.
Akin Olotu, the senior special assistant to Ondo State Governor on Agribusiness, commended the investor for a bold step in the oil palm investment in the state.
“We all realise the importance of what is happening today, but I am bold to say that Rotimi Akeredolu, SAN, has brought back the lost glory of Ondo State,” through ‘Red Gold project’ and many more agro-industrial projects facilitated into the state.
He said the plantation and the mills would, directly and indirectly, employ no fewer than 40,000 workers with the potential to do more.
“I also tell people that it is a pity that we cannot put this up in the heart of Ondo town so that people can see, but a lot has been done and accomplished, the governor has successfully repositioned Ondo State and I make this prophecy that the year is coming when the governor of Ondo State.”
He said of the major three sources of edible oil in the global market, oil palm is the most consumed. The state and the country, he maintained, have comparative advantages in oil palm production and processing.
Also, Abdul Razak, head, Perennial Crops, Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), represented by said JB Farms is the only indigenous oil palm firm in Nigeria that partners with the apex bank successfully.
“I can boldly say in CBN, as of today, our greatest partner is JB Farms. We have partnered with them in other areas, especially in Ogun and Cross River States, where they cultivated 4,500 hectares while assessing CBN intervention funds.”
“Of course, the loans have been fully repaid, and I can tell you that they are doing passionately and wonderfully well. The last speaker captured aptly what will happen if JB Farms goes on with what they are doing and I can tell you that Ondo State is blessed.”
He said apart from employment, corporate social responsibilities like roads, schools, and health would be collateral advantages to the host communities.
“We can see what is happening in the South-South area where you have so much of such being done and the same thing is being done here.”
He encouraged others to emulate JB Farms, saying, “if others can do such, certainly it will be very good not just for us but also for the nation at large. We at CBN are ready to partner with any company or any plantation farm that is ready to do similar to what JB Farms is doing.”