The government has expressed concern over forex outgo of about $ 1,800 million a year on account of vegetable oil imports. The oil yield from fresh fruit branches of palm is higher by 10 to 15 times than that from oilseeds, hence the government feels that encouragement of oil palm cultivation can reduce dependence on imports.
In the 10th Plan period, which has begun from 2004-05, it has been decided to cover an additional area of 50,000 hectare.
A target of an additional coverage of 70,000 hectare in the 11th Plan has been fixed in advance. A central outlay of Rs 50 crore has been made exclusively for promoting oil palm cultivation in the 10th Plan.
Three seed gardens have been set up in Andhra Pradesh, two in Kerala and one in Karnataka to supply planting materials. Under UNDP project a seed garden has been set up in Pedavegi in West Godavari district in Andhra Pradesh. Navbharat Seeds has set up a seed garden in Lakshmipuram in in Andhra Pradesh.
Another seed garden in Andhra Pradesh is Rajahmundry. Two seed gardens in Kerala are at Thodupuzha and CPCRI, Palode. The sole seed garden in Karnataka is at Taraka. These seed gardens are assisted under the central programme.
According to an official document, out of the total identified area of 80,000 hectare in 10 states and Andaman & Nicobar Islands, only 44,788 hectare are under oil palm cultivation.
At present oil palm cultivation is being undertaken in Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Goa, Gujarat, Tripura, Orissa, Assam, Mizoram and Andaman & Nicobar Islands. The official document noted that an area of 62,732 hectare was at a point of time.
But due to various factors farmers uprooted the cultivation in about 17,944 hectare areas in most of the states except in Maharashtra (where plantation was done before the launch of the central scheme) and Andaman & Nicobar Islands.
Thus the total area coverage under oil palm now stands at 44,788 hectare. Prior to the launch of the central programme in the 8th Plan, about 8,585 hectare was covered under oil palm cultivation.
The main reasons for slow progress in oil palm cultivation is the lack of backward linkages by the industry in purchase of the perishable FFBs, lack of adequate extension services and drought conditions in the recent years.
There is also a reluctance of farmers in taking up the crop which has a gestation period of 3 to 4 years.