By; PATRICK TITUS, Uyo
Apparent lack of proper viability study to ascertain the soil tests suitable for the cultivation of coconuts being raw materials for Coconuts Refinery project in Akwa Ibom State is currently stalling the project years after it was initiated.
The project christened, St. Gabriel Coconuts Refinery, initiated by the Governor Udom Emmanuel’s administration, according to the promoters of the project, was meant to have commenced production within the life-span of four years of the administration first term in office.
To feed the refinery with coconuts, the government had established an 11,000 hectare coconut plantation which spans the three local government areas of Mkpat Enin, Eastern Obolo and Ikot Abasi.
But more than four years after, the refinery is yet to start production despite the fact that construction work on the factory has reached almost 100 per cent completion.
A team of journalists who visited the Coconuts plantation at the weekend, observed that the trees have not grown and have remained stunted more than four years since they were planted.
Some experts, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the state government did not carry out a proper soil analysis to ascertain the suitability of the soil for coconut growth and survival.
The experts also slammed the government for not engaging relevant government agencies and promoters of the project to undertake adequate supervision of the plantation.
Government had said that two million coconut stands were planted initially, a figure that has also come under scrutiny, and even at that, sources said the plants could not grow as anticipated.
It was gathered that this forced the management of the plantation to plant another set after it was discovered that the soil was not fertile enough and the specie planted was not of the desired variety.
It was also gathered that the state government was disapointed with the management of the plantation by the Office of the Senior Special Assistant on Foreign Direct Investment.
The current healthy state of the plantation it was gathered is as a result of the management of the plantation been directly handled and supervised by the state Ministry of Agriculture under the supervision of Dr Glory Edet.
The plants are however not expected to start producing coconut before 2023, further delaying the anticipated commencement of production of coconut oil by the refinery.
But the state government did not attribute the delay in the production of coconut oil by the refinery on the immaturity of the coconut plants, but rather attributed the delay on the outbreak of COVID-19
Governor Udom Emmanuel said this when he formally received the official gazette for the approval for 50,000 hectares Liberty Oil and Gas Free Zone in the state by a delegation from the Oil and Gas Free Zones Authority (OGFZA), led by its Managing Director, Mr. Umana Okon Umana in Uyo recently.
Emmanuel said the pandemic and its associated movement restrictions stalled the movement of expatriates and equipment acquired for the project and assured Akwa Ibom people of its commencement once the dreaded pandemic is abated.
In the meantime, it was gathered that in order to augment possible shortfall from the state owned plantation whenever the refinery would be ready to commence production, government has began the distribution of seedlings to schools and organisations in the state.
Commissioner for Agriculture, Dr Glory Edet, said the state government was ready to support different organisations as part of efforts to increase the production level of coconut in the state.
“The Ministry of Agriculture is poised to encourage individuals, organisations, institutions and corporate bodies to contribute to the collaborative effort of massive production of coconuts and its value chains towards production lines of the coconut oil factory in the state.” Edet said.
The state flagged off its coconut oil refinery in 2017. The factory, believed to be the only one in the country, is located at Mkpat Enin Local Government’ Area of the state, and is said to have a projected capacity of processing about one million coconuts a day, but would commence with a capacity of 300,000 coconuts daily.
Besides its wide applications in food processing and pharmaceuticals, coconut oil is used as raw material for the production of soap and as a medium in the paint and varnish industries.
It is also used in the manufacture of detergents, surfactants, emulsifiers and pesticides and sells higher than crude oil when measured in barrels, providing immense economic opportunities for investors, experts say.