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Ensuring Sustainability in Edo State’s Palm Oil Development

Interview with Churchill Ebehitale Oboh, the Team Lead of Edo State Oil Palm Programme Independent Implementation Office (ESOPP IIO)

Churchill Ebehitale Oboh

Professional Summary:

July 2019- Present

Position: Ag. Team Lead

Edo State Oil Palm Programme (Implementation Office) Governor’s Office, Edo State Government.

Churchill Ebehitale Oboh is a results-oriented environmental and agricultural expert with a strong focus on sustainable practices and environmental stewardship in the oil palm subsector. Demonstrated expertise in optimizing agricultural productivity while minimizing environmental impact.

Proven ability to develop and implement innovative strategies to promote sustainable farming practices, biodiversity conservation, and community engagement. Adept at managing complex projects and collaborating with diverse stakeholders to achieve sustainable and profitable outcomes in the oil palm industry.

Environmental and Agricultural Expert | Oil Palm Subsector

  • MSc. Safety Health and Environmental Management, University of South Wales, Cardiff, United Kingdom

  • Bachelor of Science in Plant Science and Biotechnology (Environmental Plant-Science Option), University of Portharcourt, Rivers, Nigeria Professional Certification / Body

  • RSPO Lead Auditor / RSPO

  • GradIOSH (Member) May 2014

  • Project Management, May 2014. Seal Enterprises Cardiff, UK.

  • Supervision and Team Leadership, July 2014. Seal Enterprises Cardiff, UK.

1. How does ESOPP IIO start on sustainability focused initiatives? How does ESOPP IIO ensure that the cultivation of oil palm is sustainable and contributes to the livelihood of the Edo people?

Let me start by giving a brief about my state, Edo State, Nigeria. Edo State is strategically positioned, with the Tropical rainforest covering most of the area. It is also known for oil palm development in Nigeria because of its unique location within the oil palm belt and the home for the Nigerian Institute for Oil Palm Research (NIFOR) and some of the largest oil palm estates in Nigeria – Presco and Okomu, Saro Oil Palm, Agro-Allied and Processing and Resources Nigeria Limited accounting for about 120,000ha of cultivated oil palm.

In 2017, under the leadership of the Governor of Edo State, His Excellency, Mr. Godwin N. Obaseki, a Land Use and Land Cover Analysis (LULCA) was carried out by Proforest. Proforest is a non-profit group, that supports companies, governments, civil society, and other organizations to work towards the responsible production and sourcing of agricultural and forest commodities. Results from the analysis revealed that the State had about 120,000ha of degraded forest land, comprising grass and croplands. Interestingly, this identified area was within the Oil Palm belt of the State.

The area was further subjected to ground-truthed exercise and the process of acquiring them for plantation development began in line with the recommendations from the experts. In 2018 the Edo State became the only sub-national to sign the Marrakesh Declaration for responsible oil palm production and forest management and became a partner of the Tropical Forest Alliance (TFA) amongst other 10 West and Central African countries to produce oil palm responsibly: Cameroon, Central African Republic, Côte d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of Congo, Edo State (Nigeria), Gabon, Ghana, Liberia, Republic of Congo and Sierra Leone. These countries account for 25% of the world’s tropical forests and 75% of Africa’s forests. Consequently, the Africa Palm Oil Initiative Multi-Stakeholders Platform was formed in the State.

Consequently, Edo State principles and actions for responsible oil palm production were developed with stakeholders. The Government adopted the Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) as the standard for oil palm development in the state. Similarly, land acquisition and allotment processes will be comprehensive and carried out under the Edo state Free Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) guidelines co-developed with Proforest.

The Edo State Oil Palm Programme Independent Implementation Office ensures that the cultivation of oil palm is sustainable and contributes to livelihood by adopting sustainable practices. As I have mentioned earlier, all oil palm companies in Edo State are mandated to reforest 10% of the cultivable area of their land holding and comply with RSPOs standards which include, preserving biodiversity, protecting forests and peatlands, protecting the HCV/HCS, reducing greenhouse gas emissions respect for workers right and safe working conditions and land rights, etc. As we speak, there is a bill before the Edo State House of Assembly that will legally back these sustainable practices in the sector. The ESOPP Investors are currently piloting it by implementing the RSPO New Planting Procedure (NPP).

As I also mentioned earlier, before the launching of the Edo State Oil Palm Programme (ESOPP), our technical partners had conducted LULCA which helped in ensuring responsible land use planning, as we speak the State now has a Forestry Commission and a new Forestry law that helps with the protection, regeneration, and conversation of the forest assets of the state.

Similarly, we have adopted Free Prior and Informed Consent as a way of engaging local communities before the commencement of any investment in the sector. The State Governor has made it mandatory for small-holder inclusion in the development plan of our investors, as investors are to commit 5% of their land holdings as designated areas for a smallholder scheme. More so, the governor through the ESOPP IIO has also allocated 2,000 hectares to small-holder farmers in the state as a way of supporting them with access to land at no cost. To conclude, the ESOPP IIO is an independent Office created in partnership between the private sector and government monitors to ensure compliance with these policies and laws by all parties.

2. One of ESSOP IIO’s functions is to promote zero deforestation. What are the campaigns and activities that have been taken concerning this?

As you may be aware ESOPP is the institutional home of the APOI now ASCI. Consequently, the PPR approach is the thematic pillar of ESOPP, PPR stands for Produce, Protect, and Rehabilitate. This means that whilst our producers produce oil palm and other tree crop commodities, they must protect high conservation value areas, restore degraded land, and promote reforestation. This helps to preserve biodiversity, protect watersheds, and mitigate the environmental impacts associated with oil palm cultivation. Through the APOI now ASCI platform, we have carried out several sensitizations, training on HCV/HCS, campaigns, and street walks to sensitize stakeholders on the need to avoid incessant bush burning and illegal felling of trees.

3. Recently, ESOPP IIO facilitated a meeting between the Africa Palm Oil Initiative (APOI) and the Africa Sustainable Commodities Initiative (ASCI) highlighted the review of the Principles and Actions. Do share with us a little bit about this.

This is true, and it was a very significant meeting of stakeholders in the tree/food crop and forestry sector in the state as participants drawn from both the national level, state, and local levels were present at the meeting. Just to give a bit of background, in the year 2022 at the United Nations Climate Change Conference held in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, leaders IN THE HOT SEAT of 10 West and Central Africa Countries as earlier mentioned and the Former Honourable Minister for Environment, Hon. Mohammed Abdullahi, signed the Africa Sustainable Commodities Initiative on behalf of Nigeria.

Before the meeting and signing, the Marrakesh declaration previously signed was particularly focused on oil palm and forestry but then the leaders of these countries came together and said to themselves noting that in the landscape other commodities drive deforestation which should be produced sustainably not just oil palm, several consultations were done at national and regional levels where other commodities like cocoa and rubber were identified and they decided to review the earlier signed declaration and that is how we got the ASCI declaration. Similarly, principles and actions for responsible production of oil palm and forest management were drafted by stakeholders before the signing of the ASCI, these P&A were reviewed to include other commodities as well as discuss the sustainability of the MSP as the gains of the APOI now ASCI are enormous and needs to be sustained.

4. How does ESOPP IIO plan to help the smallholders boost their production and create awareness of sustainability?

The truth is there is a lot that can be done but in the area of awareness creation of sustainability, we are already doing it in some capacity through some of our partners, particularly the Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) whom on the 24th of October 2022 launched the RSPO Community Engagement and Outreach Programme which will run for about 24 months through its one privately sourced consultant.

The goal is that after the program, our small-holder farmers and communities will have the needed information on how to boost their production by producing sustainably and general awareness of good farming practices. But I must admit that a lot more can and should be done.

5. What does Nigeria lack to be a leading palm oil producer? How is Nigeria addressing these gaps now?

Well, I will like to say that Nigeria has all it takes to be a leading palm oil producer, currently, we are at number 5. However, there are several factors that we currently lack or are in short supply, these factors range from quality of planting materials, perfect climatic conditions, technology, access to finance for small-holder farmers that make up about 70% of production, and good mills to prevent losses during milling.

In reality one of the things, we currently lack in my opinion is quality planting material which is key and adequate funding in research to produce quality seeds that are adaptive to our climatic conditions, etc. is very vital to be able to have quality planting materials and technology to boost yields, and ensure optimal extraction rates during milling. Additionally, there is also a critical factor which is the climatic conditions as an effect of climate change i.e., rainfall. If these earlier factors mentioned are addressed then we will take back our glory in the sector.


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