Year-1995-96; A watershed moment of my professional career
Not many would remember that in 1995 National Dairy Development Board had initiated a project on ” Oil Palm”.
The project was initiated in Mandya district of Karnataka with the objective of producing, procuring, processing and marketing Palm oil so that the burden of import of edible oil on national exchequer is reduced.
A study conducted by NDDB found Madya district as suitable for promotion Oil palm cultivation considering the available irrigated land under Cauvery river basin.
NDDB hired a Belgium based SIAT ( “Société d’Investissement pour l’Agriculture Tropicale”) as consultant for implementation of the project. Government of India also hired SIAT for training of key personnel from among stakeholders of the project.
I was selected as Manager Plantation of NDDB Oil palm project along with a team consisting of officers for Nursery and Extension activities.
Government of Karnataka gave 25 acres of an irrigated farm belonging to the Command Area Development Authority (CADA) in Mandya for raising nursery. I was deputed to Benin in Nigeria for one month training along with the State and Central Government Officials.
NDDB imported preheated oil palm seeds for raising few lakhs of seedlings and also simultaneously farmers were identified for cultivation of oil palm in their vacant land and also as a possible replacement for Paddy and Sugarcane as an alternate cash crop.
Considering the Success of Operation Flood Program milk, Government of India had good hopes on NDDB‘s involvement and expected that it the programme would be successful.
Besides NDDB there were other organisations like Oswal, ITC and some others who took up oil palm projects in Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh.
One year after the launch of the project, NDDB decided to withdraw from the project considering the low price of import oil vs high production cost in India as Malaysia and other countries cost of production was cheaper.
NDDB handed over the project to ITC as it was operating in the neighboring Mysore district.
Since, NDDB decided to withdraw from the project, I decided to resign from NDDB and join Ballarpur Industries (Thapar Group) as Manager Plantation for their Project in Narayanapur in Raichur district of Karnataka which is under the command area of Krishna River. Unfortunately, after my joining the project, within a month, Thapar group also decided to withdrew from the project. Thapar Group too at the time of withdrawal done some preliminary work on the project for about a year.
My journey with Oil palm ended then and there and I was deputed by Ballarpur Industries Pvt. Ltd. to its subsidiary Reitzel Indiaand later renamed as Global Green Company a 100% Export Oriented Unit, growing Gherkin and other vegetables through contract farming for export.
Various Pictures taken during my Visit to Peresco, OIlpalm Factory, Benin Nigeria! Team of Officers deputed from Government department and industries from India to Nigeria under Technology Mission of Oilseeds to Nigeria! Mr. J. M Rousseau, from Siat training the officers from India at Benin, Nigeria, Training at Presco Oilpalm processing unitF) Training at Presco, Benin Oilpalm Nursery
I served as Sr. Manger Agri Operations with Global Green Company for 6 years before joining NDDB’s SAFAL Fruit & Vegetables Auction Market in Bangalore in 2002.
After more than 25 years since the initial foray into Palm Oil in September 2021 the Government of India has now announced an ambitious Oil Palm Mission with an estimated outlay of Rs.11000 to promote cultivation of Oil palm in North Eastern states of India with an objective of supporting farmers aa cash crop and to reduce the import burden worth of Rs.30,000 crores edible oil in India.
There is a lot of debate these days about self sufficiency of India in edible oils. NDDB’s Oilseeds and Vegetable Oil Project and the Market Intervention Operations had made India Aatmnirbhar in edible oils in 1990’s.
However, the involvement of NDDB and other private sector players in the Palm Oil project and withdrawal after a year during 1996 does not figure much as a topic of public conversation.
Would history repeat itself ? Only time would tell !