A worker collects palm oil fruit inside a palm oil factory. (File photo|Reuters)
A worker collects palm oil fruit inside a palm oil factory. (File photo|Reuters)

Push for palm oil self-reliance

Pitifully, India barely produces about 1.5% of its palm oil while importing about 9 million tonnes annually from Southeast Asian countries—Indonesia and Malaysia particularly.

The Centre has shown strong intent on boosting domestic production of palm oil, having cleared the National Mission on Edible Oils-Oil Palm (NMEO-OP). The Rs 11,040-crore scheme focuses on addressing the country’s edible oil security by bringing more areas under oil palm cultivation. India is one of the world’s largest vegetable oil consumers but remains heavily import dependent. Palm oil and its derivatives, used in most processed food, account for the largest share among vegetable oil in the country.

Pitifully, India barely produces about 1.5% of its palm oil while importing about 9 million tonnes annually from Southeast Asian countries—Indonesia and Malaysia particularly. The import dependence also impacts food inflation. Thus, the Centre’s Atmanirbhar plan for palm oil production through increased cultivation makes sense. It seeks to raise the crude palm oil production to 11 lakh metric tonnes by 2025-26, during which 6.5 lakh hectares of land will be added to the existing 3.7 lakh hectares. The new scheme will have the Centre providing Rs 8,844 crore while states would have to chip in with Rs 2,196 crore. NMEO-OP also looks to secure farmer interests, with price regulation as well as a viability price mechanism given the long gestation period of the crop.

However, the push for palm oil production must be handled with utmost care. One, health concerns associated with palm oil must not be glossed over because India happens to be the diabetic capital of the world. Two, the Centre must not ignore traditional oil seed crops that can address edible oil security besides sustaining thousands of farmers. Finally, there is a serious glare on the palm oil industry due to climate impact. Palm plantations are not just water-guzzling in nature, but a push for them has also led to serious depletion in rainforests, sending critical species to the brink. So much so that Indonesia, the biggest producer, had to place a three-year ban on permits. Importantly, India’s push for palm oil self-reliance has a special focus on the Northeast and the Andaman Nicobar Islands, two ecologically sensitive regions. The Centre must ensure that environmental safeguards are in place and health interests are not compromised.

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The New Indian Express
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