There has been a sizeable increase in the cultivation of oil palm (Elaeis guineensis) in the North Eastern state of Mizoram in the districts of Aizawl, Mamit, Kolasib, Serchhip, Saiha, Lunglei and Lawngtlai since 2005. The extracted oil palm has various uses as food, household products, biodiesel, cosmetics and others.
Mizoram is largely an agrarian economy with most of the population living in the hilly terrain growing an assortment of native food and fruit crops. The climatic conditions, ample water supply (Mizoram receives rain for about eight months in a year) and soil rich in organic matter is conducive for the cultivation of oil palm. Most of the oil palm plantations lie along the river sites and wetlands which are at a low elevation and on a gentle slope.
It is estimated that over 23,000 hectares of land are under oil palm cultivation as of now with over 10,000 farmers from 225 villages actively involved in its plantation. Oil palm is deemed to be an ideal crop for soil and moisture conservation, to provide ecological balance and repair eroded or degraded land.
Many marginal farmers and smallholders have gradually shifted out of the traditional jhum cultivation to take up oil palm production as it has a higher economic potential as compared to cereals. The farmers have received government assistance for clearing the land, construction of water tanks and pipes for water supply, free insecticide and fertilizers and other subsidies.
Oil palm cultivation assumes significance for augmenting the availability of indigenous edible oil as it is the highest oil yielding perennial crop (yield of palm oil is five times the yield of edible oil obtainable from traditional oilseeds). Farmers believe that with the superior planting material, irrigation and management help offered by the government, the oil palm plantations can easily produce 20 to 25 metric tonnes of fresh fruit bunches (FFB) per hectare from the age of 5. This in turn will yield approximately 4 to 5 metric tonnes of palm oil and 0.4 to 0.5 metric tonnes of palm kernel oil.
Mizoram has a formidable reputation in the domestic and international markets of producing high value and excellent quality agri-horticultural produce. The need of the hour is to establish more oil palm processing mills to increase the output, generate employment opportunities and provide steady income for the farmers.
Palm oil sold by locals in the markets is used for curries and spicy dishes.
Written by Lakshmi Subramanian
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