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Pause in oil palm plantation   
By Ghulam Nabi Mughal

July 18, 2011: THE fate of oil palm plantation project in the coastal areas of Sindh has become uncertain in the backdrop of conflicting views of the provincial government officials over the status of Pakistan Oilseed Development Board after its devolution.

According to a source in the provincial government, more than once in the past, the project failed to take off in the absence of oil palm extraction plant in the province. But, with the palm planting project, work on the setting up of oil extraction plant was in progress in Thatta district.

To facilitate the project several federal government bodies , including the Pakistan Oilseed Development Board (POSDB), had to be devolved to the provinces.

A source attached to the Sindh Coastal Development Authority (SCDA), talking to this scribe, regretted that the centre wanted to handover the POSDB to the province, but the Sindh Agriculture Department, due to some reasons, did not agree to take over its charge.

Consequently, he said, it was feared that work on oil extraction plant being financed by the POSDB would be stopped; that would damage the project located on 500 acres in the coastal belt of Thatta district which includes maintenance and rehabilitation of plantation over an area of 200 acres and setting up of nursery for 400 seedlings.

The plantation of palm on an area of 100 acres at another site launched by the Sindh Government will also be affected.

It is feared that with the Sindh government’s refusal to take over the charge of the board, work on setting up of oil extraction plant might be stopped.

However, when contacted, Sindh Agriculture Secretary Agha Ahad Jan denied reports that the provincial government was reluctant to take over the POSDB. He said it was ready to take over a part of the said board.

 

However, he expressed reservations over the viability of an oil extraction plant in Thatta.

He said the project was not planned on sound lines and complained that it was in the hands of inexperienced people. After organising the board in the province, efforts would be made to set up a viable oil extraction plant.

Giving details about plantation scheme on 500 acres in the coastal zone of Thatta district, officials said the project launched in 2007-08 was to be completed by 2012-13 at an estimated cost of over Rs46.4 million.

Around Rs21 million had been spent till June 2010.Till now, palm has been planted over 120 acres in Kathore (riverine forest), 120 acres in Maliriri forest (inland irrigated forest) and over 60 acres in Munarki (riverine forest).

The plantation reports are excellent with 95 per cent survival. According to these sources, reports about plantation at two other sites are also encouraging.

Recently a team of Malaysian experts visited the plantation sites and in their report they described the results as excellent. Moreover, they said the quality of fruits were better than those planted in Malaysia.

The CDA sources admitted that due to last year’s floods fruits of the size of about 1-1.5 feet were damaged but those more than two feet survived.
Pakistan spends about Rs90 billion on the import of about 1.7 million tons of palm oil each year.

In case, adequate palm is planted in the country, it can save enormous foreign exchange each year.

Experts believe that all necessary ingredients for massive palm plantation are available in the country but what is needed is to get out of the trap of edible oil import lobby.

These experts say the country is yet to take advantage of its 550 km coastline of Balochistan and 330 km shoreline in southern Sindh best suited for oil palm plantation.

In case of less rainfall, humidity and availability of canal water can serve as substitute.


Courtesy: The DAWN

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