Palm oil, a product of palm fruits predominantly cultivated in the eastern part of Nigeria, serves both domestic and industrial uses. Domestically, every household consumes palm oil in different quantities and forms, as it is a significant ingredient in almost every cooking and it is nutritious, medicinal and rich in vitamins.
It is also a good anti-dote for treating ailments in addition to having antibiotic components. And when combined with some herbs, palm oil provides wonderful solutions for some health challenges. It also has high viscosity and reacts to temperature ; mixes and colours food properly with its background taste and quality. This oil does not wash easily in water without aid of detergent due to its viscosity and in spite of being consumed daily, it has no real side effect.
Palm oil is also a good industrial material. It is used in the production of soup, cosmetics, drugs, etc.
The above stated values and characteristics of palm oil result only but only when it is in its pure state. A good quality palm oil is produced from matured and ripe fresh palm fruits. Unfortunately, a reasonable percentage of what is being displayed as palm oil in the market today, is far from pure and quality palm oil. And the unassuming consumer is happily purchasing and using it.
When this writer first stumbled on this fact, that adulterated palm oil is in the market, it was by accident. He thought no right thinking person would toy with something so significant and massively consumed but, investigation into what is on offer in many markets revealed that adulteration is real. He was stunned that people would stop at nothing to make money. In fact, he discovered that fake palm oil has been in markets in many states for a long time now.
This adulterated product is difficult to identify from original palm oil as both have almost the same colour though slightly different in taste and scent while the adulterated product lacks all the earlier stated values and characteristics of real palm oil. The adulterated product does not blend properly in liquid foods whether hot or cold as it usually floats, nor does it offer that special flavor or quality real palm oil is known for despite the red oil look.
Deep investigations revealed that this fake product now everywhere, is produced by mixing pigment oil-red substance with a little quantity of real palm oil to generate quantity. And it is graded in accordance with the quantity of real palm oil in the concoction. Thus, you find, ‘first original’ and ‘second original’ grades all circulating as pure original palm oil all over the Nigerian markets.
So, that which began as an obscure act has blossomed into an alarming rate and is today, threatening the palm oil market and posing serious danger to the health of Nigerians. As it seems, almost every Nigerian in this country who uses palm oil might have ignorantly consumed this fake product believing it to be the original product especially in periods of acute scarcity.
One might want to know why Nigeria from where other nations like Malaysia, Indonesia got seedlings to grow their now successful palm oil business would be experiencing the scarcity of same product now giving room for fraud in the sector. Before the civil war, palm oil was a major revenue earner for the country. This prompted massive cultivation of palm trees and subsequent production of palm fruits and he accompanying location of oil mills at varied locations in the eastern part of the country. These provided adequate quality palm oil for local consumption and for export as well as employment. The issue of adulteration was then unheard of.
Shortly after the war, followed quickly by a boom in crude oil sales, the palm oil sector of the economy was inadvertently and sadly ignored by the federal authorities as attention shifted heavily to crude oil production, which soon became the main revenue earner for the country.
Consequently, the large scale production of palm produce slumped. As the federal government no longer showed meaningful interest in this sector, palm plantation owners and other relevant stakeholders reviewed their interests and eventually abandoned the business at the mercy of very few local subsistent producers who, felt not opportune to access the easy and fast paying office jobs occasioned by the crude oil boom.
The unfortunate effect of this is that a virile and vast window of job opportunities and wealth creation in the country was ignorantly shut, giving rise to the unfortunate and numerous vices, including adulteration of products like palm oil, plaguing the country today.
As it stands now, government at all levels should as a matter of great concern, investigate, identify operators and eliminate as quickly as possible, production and circulation of the fake palm oil from all the markets. The consumers, that is, the public should be alerted on the danger in this fake product and taught how to identify it to make elimination easy.
Federal, state and local governments, should review their policies on agriculture as quickly as possible especially now that world focus is shifting from oil, with a view to revamping the moribund but promising palm produce industry and encouraging as in the past, practitioners in the sector. Local palm oil producers should be mobilized , financed and encouraged with modern implements, to step-up production.
These measures will go a long way in tackling the menace of adulteration of palm oil and also re-open the potent window of opportunities for job and wealth creation which will in turn boost our national economy and gradually help in lifting Nigeria out of the dangerously pitiable state of being a world poverty capital.
– By Ukutumoren E. Ukutumoren