Oil palm mission: State that pioneered initiative still has potential to be country’s leader, say experts

Karnataka conceived the idea back in 1986 to cultivate oil palm particularly in irrigated regions

June 21, 2022 10:48 pm | Updated 10:48 pm IST - BENGALURU

A file photo of an oil palm plantation in Chikkamagaluru district.

A file photo of an oil palm plantation in Chikkamagaluru district.

The oil palm mission started by the Centre in 2020-21 has started gaining traction particularly after the edible oil import was hit due to the Russia-Ukraine war. Karnataka had conceived the idea of palm oil mission about 35 years ago, though it did not succeed due to various reasons. Experts suggest that Karnataka should revive the mission as it has a conducive environment for oil palm cultivation which can also contribute to increasing farmers’ incomes.

The idea of the mission had taken shape in 1985 when then Horticulture Minister B. Somashekhar visited the Central Plantation Crops Research Institute (CPCRI) in Kasaragod, Kerala, to interact with scientists. He had formed a committee headed by noted scientist P. Rethinam of the CPCRI to study the feasibility in Karnataka.

What committee said

The committee had concluded that Karnataka had vast potential for oil palm cultivation under irrigation. According to the committee’s report, an area of three lakh hectares of land could be brought under oil palm cultivation in the major irrigation command areas of the Thungabhadra, Upper Krishna Project, Malaprabha and Ghataprabha, Bhadra, and Cauvery. The committee had recommended that a processing factory should be established under the public sector for every 2,000 hectares of land within a radius of 40 km so that it would be possible to process the produce within 24 hours of harvesting.

“The main intention of taking measures for boosting oil palm cultivation then was to prevent excessive dependence on imports. But despite such aspirations, the scheme did not succeed as the subsequent governments did not show much interest. This resulted in several farmers even removing oil palms from their fields,” said Mr. Somashekhar.

Political will

Speaking to The Hindu, Dr. Rethinam observed that the earlier mission to boost oil palm cultivation in Karnataka had failed due to a lack of “political and bureaucratic will”. However, he noted that the State still had high potential for emerging as a leader in cultivation of oil palm.

The Centre launched the National Mission on Edible Oils – Oil Palm in 2021-22 to augment the availability of edible oil in the country through expansion of the area under cultivation of oil palm and also reducing the burden of import. In 2020-21, India imported 133.5 lakh tonnes of edible oil, out of which palm oil accounted for 56%.

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