By Ukutumoren E. Ukutumoren
Palm oil, a product of palm fruits predominant in the eastern part of the country serves both domestic and industrial uses. Domestically, every household in Nigeria largely consumes palm oil as it is so significant in almost every cooking.
It's nutritious, medicinal and rich in vitamin A, etc,
It's also a good antidote and antibiotic in the treatment of wounds, and a fine physiotherapic material in handling bone dislocation. When combined with some herbs it provides wonderful solutions for some health challenges.
It has high viscosity and reacts to temperature. It mixes and colours foods properly and gives its background taste and quality. And does not wash easily in water without detergent due to the viscosity. Inspite of daily consumption it has no side effect.
Palm oil is also a good industrial material. It is used in the production of soap, cosmetics, etc.
The above stated values and characteristics of palm oil, just to mention a few, result only when it is in good or pure original state. A good quality palm oil is produced from matured-ripe palm fruits.
Unfortunately, a reasonable percentage of palm oil available in the country's markets today is far from pure original palm oil. And this is ignorantly consumed by the public.
When the writer first stumbled on this fake product he thought it was incidental as no right thinking person would toy with such/significant and massively consumed product in the name of making money, but was stunned, when his findings in many markets in some states revealed that the fake palm oil has been in circulation for a long time now.
This product is a bit difficult to differentiate from the original palm oil as it has almost the same color but slightly different in taste and scent, and lacks all the values/characteristics of pure palm oil stated above. It does not mix properly in liquid foods either hot or cold as it is found floating and gives no palm oil flavor or quality even as it appears so oil-red concentrated.
On intense inquiry, the writer learned that the fake product is produced by mixing a pigment oil-red material with a little quantity of palm oil to multiply. The quantity of palm oil in the mixture determines the grade of the product. Thus, you find 'first original' and 'second original', all circulating as pure original palm oil in the country's markets. And that which stated at a very obscure angle has now blossomed to an alarming rate and seriously threatens the palm oil market.
With this product in existence and the alarming rate in circulation, it holds that almost every inhabitant of this country who uses palm oil might have ignorantly consumed it respecting the period of acute palm oil scarcity.
The extent of damages to health in consuming this fake product cannot be over emphasized. Perhaps the advent of stubborn ailments, in recent times that defy known diagnosis and treatments, creating poor health conditions leading to loss of lives and, conjecturely, blamed on modern food condiments may not be far from the consumption of this fake product.
What is the cause of inadequate palm oil supply impelling the incidence of adulteration? Before the civil war palm oil was the major revenue earner for the country's economy. This prompted the massive production of palm fruits and location of the relative oil mill facilities mostly in the eastern parts of the country. This provided enough quality palm oil for local consumptions and export. The issue of fake palm oil then was undreamt of.
But shortly after the civil war, quickly followed by the crude oil boom, the palm oil sector of the economy was inadvertently and sadly ignored by the federal authorities that paid premium attention on crude oil production as it overtook palm oil in revenue generation to the economy.
Consequently, the large scale production of palm oil slumped. As the federal authorities no longer showed any meaningful interest in the palm fruit production palm plantation owners and other relevant stakeholders reviewed their interests and abandoned the business to the mercy of very few local palm oil subsistent producers, who felt not opportune for 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 employment and wealth creation in the country was ignorantly closed, giving rise to the unfortunate and numerous vices, including palm oil adulteration today.
As it is now, the government at all levels should, as a mother of great concern, investigate, identify, track and eliminate as quickly as possible, the continued existence and circulation of this fake palm oil in the nation's markets. The general public should be officially alerted and sensitized on this product.
The federal, states and local governments should, as of necessity, review their policies on agriculture with view to revamping the moribund palm fruit production by setting up and encouraging, as before, palm plantations where possible. Palm oil mill facilities should also be located at strategic areas in the palm fruit zones of the respective local government areas in the country to ensure standard and quality palm oil production. The local palm oil producers should be mobilized and encouraged with financial assistance and modern equipments in palm oil production. This would go a long way in tackling the palm oil adulteration and reopen the vast and potent window of job/wealth creation and boost the nation's economy.