India to remain palm oil buyer, but Malaysia must not be complacent — expert

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KUALA LUMPUR (July 24): India will remain the main export destination for the world's top largest palm oil producers — Indonesia and Malaysia — for the foreseeable future given the time taken for India to get its agriculture sector upgraded and modernised, Palm Oil Analytics owner and co-founder Dr Sathia Varqa said.

He said the country’s agriculture sector is heavily dependent on rain to feed the crop.

“Palm requires plenty of rain to produce the optimum yield and absence of rain for more than two months would severely reduce yields. This would increase cost [of production],” he told Bernama.

Sathia also said that India would embark on a self-sufficiency path given its high dependency on imports costing billions of US dollars, and the statement from the prime minister reflects the urgency given the massive deficit the country is facing from the economic challenges made worse by the Covid-19 pandemic.

“But most importantly, Malaysia cannot be complacent and it needs to continue expanding its current market presence, strike bilateral agreements, deepen research and increase collaboration,” he stressed.

Yesterday, Bernama reported that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi had asked farmers in the country's north-eastern states to develop oil palm plantations to serve an "assured market" for the imported commodity.

He was advised by agricultural scientists and economists on the potential of oil palm plantations in the north-east region that would help India's drive for self-sufficiency.

"I request all state governments [in the north-east] to develop a palm olein mission in their respective states," Modi said via a videoconference to lay the foundation stone for a water supply project in the state of Manipur.

The Solvent Extractors' Association (SEA), an Indian trade group that represents oilseed crushers, applauded Modi's call, saying that it would reduce imports.

SEA president Atul Chaturvedi said cultivable area for oil palm plantations would grow as the issue had now received attention at the highest level of the government.

India has identified about two million hectares of land that are suitable for oil palm cultivation. This can yield up to eight million tonnes of palm oil.

Among the states that have been identified are Arunachal Pradesh, Assam and Mizoram in the north-east.

Meanwhile, Malaysian Palm Oil Board (MPOB) director-general Dr Ahmad Parveez Ghulam Kadir said while Malaysia hopes that India would continue to buy its palm oil, the country would also be happy to assist the Indian government technically in its efforts to cultivate oil palm.

Ahmad Parveez, however, said that climate conditions in India may make its efforts to increase palm oil productivity a real challenge.