Q) “Examine why palm cultivation is seen mostly in North east India.” What measures are taken by the government in stabilizing palm cultivation in that region?
India is one of the major oilseed’s growers and importer of edible oils. India’s vegetable oil economy is world’s fourth largest after USA, China & Brazil. Palm oil is a major edible oil now and total potential area for oil palm cultivation in India is 1.9 million hectares. Area under oil palm is about 3 lakh hectares. Andhra Pradesh accounts for more than 55 per cent of the total coverage.
Reasons why North Eastern states are being pushed for palm cultivation are:
Suitable climate: Best growing conditions for palm trees exist in a small band around the equator, limiting the number of places the crop can be successfully farmed. These regions coincide with the rainforest zones. Palm requires humid weather throughout the year which might be provided by India’s north east naturally unlike the irrigated cultivation in AP.
Fertile land, abundant water resources, dependable rainfall and vast biodiversity the northeastern region holds tremendous potential on the agricultural front.
Not only is palm oil the cheapest vegetable oil in the world, but from a farmer’s perspective, it is also perhaps the most rewarding, with yields of four to six tonnes of crude palm oil per hectare
- Policy and government’s push:
Government support Mizoram, the government has instituted a New Land Use Policy (NLUP) vowing to stamp out “wasteful shifting cultivation” and replace it with settled agriculture, especially oil palm monocultures.
In palm cultivation harvesting occurs all the year-round, producing a continuous supply of oil that can provide an alternate source of employment in these states.
- Economic reasons:
With rising competition over finite agricultural land among different crops, only higher productivity can bridge the demand-supply gap. The answer is oil palm that produces 4- 6 tons of crude palm oil and 0. 4- 0. 6 tons of palm kernel oil per hectare during its productive lifespan of 20 years, compared to a yield of less than 1 ton per hectare from other oilseeds. This also gives palm oil a distinct price advantage
The government is seriously concerned about stagnant oilseeds production and the rising import of edible oils to the tune of 15 million tons per annum, costing the exchequer over Rs 75,000 crore. To increase production of oilseeds from the current 30 million tons to over 47 million tons by 2024-25, the government plans to launch the national mission on edible oil programme in the next three months. the Budget for 2020-21 may allocate funds for this mission.
Earlier government initiatives
- Although India’s Oil Palm Development Programme (OPDP) dates back to 1991, it is only recently (2011) that the government has begun to seriously view oil palm as important to India’s edible oil security and is aggressively pushing for increased cultivation under the Special Programme on Oil Palm Area Expansion (OPAE).
- The OPAE has budgeted Rs 300 crore to expand oil palm cultivation by 600 km2 in 12 states over five years.
- The government has announced a package of 10, 000 crore over three years, which is intended to support farmers until the trees begin to yield. The government has identified nine States with suitable climatic conditions including north east.
- The government also allowed 100 per cent FDI in palm oil plantations
- In a relatively recent development, Rs 3, 507 crores were sanctioned to National Mission on Oilseeds and Oil Palm in 2014.
- One of the aims of this scheme is bring 125, 000 hectares of area under oil palm cultivation through area expansion.
- Nineteen states are a part of oil palm expansion plan, of these seven Mizoram, Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Nagaland and Tripura are from India’s northeast.
- Most recently, Ruchi Soya Industries Ltd signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Arunachal Pradesh government to development oil palm in 25, 000 hectares in four districts of the state.
- Globally, many countries have allowed use of GM oilseeds and oil made from them are finding their way into India.
- Soyabean oil imported from Argentina and rapeseed oil from Canada also include oil made from GM seeds.
- Even without government permission, Indians consume edible oil made from GM seeds.
- Tax concessions for companies supporting oilseeds farming and promoting oil palm cultivation are some major recommendations.
- India must insist that all oil palm cultivation conforms at least to Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) standards.
- The need is to establish appropriate checks, balances and punitive measures for socially disruptive and ecologically destructive practices. In this process, consultations with local communities, state governments and social and environmental scientists is essential, rather than limiting policy formulation simply to the central agricultural ministry.