With the recent warning by the National Palm Oil Produce Association of Nigeria (NPPAN) on the effects of adulterated palm oil on human health, FarmingFarmersFarms sat down with Miss. Esther Olibamoyo, an Ibadan-based palm oil distributor and a graduate of Physiology, who hails from Okitipupa in Ondo State. In this interview, she speaks on how palm oil produced in her state, which she sells, is uniquely made without adding colouring agents or chemicals and how lucrative palm oil business had been for her. Excerpts:
How did you get into palm oil agribusiness?
My dad started planting palm trees in 1985 when he finished secondary school. So, I get my palm oil fresh from my father’s “Olibachris” farms in Okitipupa, Ondo state. So, I am proudly an oil palm farmer’s daughter. As the first daughter and second child of my parents, I can say that I was born into this business of palm oil. My mum, as a palm oil dealer, actually got married to my dad doing the business while he was still working as a local government staff. In fact, my elder brother did the same business by supplying companies before he travelled out of the country.
How would you describe your progression so far?
I was initiated into the business when I was in primary school after I was allowed to follow my parents to the farm to see the whole process of making, marketing and selling. Those times, people from Lagos, Ibadan, and other states used to come to our farm to buy. Despite that he had over 25 acres of palm tree plantation, the demands can be so much that he would refer them to other farms that produce palm oil.
Miss. Esther Olibamoyo speaking with FarmingFarmersFarms on her palm oil processing business.
How much yield can a tree produce per time?
A young palm tree can produce faster at their tender age. About five years ago, my dad actually bought a new breed of oil palm seeds that grew and matured in three years. Those trees can produce up to 10-15 of fruits at a time. And imagine you have like 1,000 trees of such, that’s a lot. Oil palm trees no longer take time to grow like before. It’s just that the fruits usually grow mature layer after layer.
Briefly describe the processing of oil palm fruit up to oil production?
Processing of palm oil is now beyond mashing the fruits in a dug well with feet and dirty water, which is rather not hygienic. There are now inventions of machines that they use in the processing, from grinding and to filtering, among others. There are more consumers of palm oil, globally and in Nigeria. There are grinding, milling, pressing and filtering machines now for palm oil production. In Ondo State, especially on my dad’s farm, after harvesting from the farm, we usually take the produce to the processing depot, which is a part of the farm, then they cut the bunches into pieces so that it will be easy for the seeds to be removed. Five or seven to eight days later, those seeds would have been falling off or made easy to remove and by then, fermentation would have taken place. At this stage, cooking has to take place, and the cooking is done with clean water. Water is actually needed to cook the oil, but in the rainy season, little water is required for cooking unlike the dry season.
So, can we say there is water inside palm oil?
Of course, there is. The water used for cooking definitely enters it, although in a very abysmal amount. The quantity is very minute, but when water is now added excessively, as in the case of adulterated oil, then you will see the oil flaming and causing a lot of air pollution when used for cooking. Meanwhile, oil palm actually needs a lot of water to grow. After cooking, they turn the cooked palm fruit into the milling machine, which will separate the kernel from the oil shaft. Next, the oil shaft is taken to the press, which presses out the palm oil. You can say your crude palm oil is ready here, but there are still some shaft that remains, which goes into the selector. The selector actually separates the palm kernel from the fibre; this fibre usually still has some quantity of oil, which the press could still force oil out of. After this stage, they filter, purify and package for distribution.
As a university graduate, did you ever feel less of yourself venturing into palm oil agribusiness?
Never! No, even while I was still studying, I had wanted to start, but my parents and studies would not allow it. So, I had to wait till now, because I didn’t want to be distracted. But in my final year in school, I began. I started with someone that wanted to store up the oil for a year before distribution to family and friends. The man gave me over N600,000 around March/February 2021 and said he wanted to use it as Christmas gifts to people. Later on, the man came to me and said I could actually sell the oil and replace it so as to start running my palm oil distribution business properly. So, that was how I started making “Standard Palm Oil”, before the man could need the oil he purchased, later that year. Now, I have even introduced my fiancé into the business.
A worker on Olibachris palm oil mill, getting the milled fruits into the presser.
With your experience, what would you advise anyone that wants to venture into palm oil business?
Palm oil business is very lucrative, only that it requires capital. Palm oil is a product people consume every day and because of its health benefits, people consume it a lot. To start this business, I would advise such a person to have like N200,000-N500,000 to cater for buying of kegs for purchasing the product, and then, transportation as well as marketing.
How many sales would you say you have made since you started officially?
Since 2022 and now, I would say we have sold over 2,000 litres of palm oil and the business is still moving. This is even as I still sell packaged foodstuffs alongside with it.
What is it about your palm oil that makes it different from others? And why do people say it could be rather expensive?
What actually stands Ondo palm oil out is actually its pureness and that it does not smell. It is good for all African dishes, even Igbos prefer it when their palm oil is not available. Ondo palm oil is actually good palm oil, at least, the one I sell, which is directly sourced, and that is what I eat too, despite that the price has now gone up due to many reasons, for price hike is a universal thing now, due to inflation. Then to say it’s ‘expensive’ is relative, depending on the area, transportation and other logistics.
Can you relay to us some of the benefits of consuming palm oil?
Palm oil really has a lot of benefits for humans, as there is a saying in Yoruba parlance that “what a bird eats is what it will take to fly”. So, eating healthy palm oil nourishes your skin, helps your hair grow, improves your skin colour, reduces weight gain and other diseases’ risks, among others.