Pullarao Daravathu and thousands of other farmers in the southern Indian state of Telangana are hard at work growing oil palms as their region strives to add more land to the contentious crop in the next four years than the entire nation has in decades. Telangana plans to plant oil palm on 2 million more acres over the course of the next four years, and it will go to tremendous measures to accomplish this aim, including creating huge dams, irrigation canals, and importing millions of germinated sprouts. Farmers like Daravathu are being encouraged to switch to oil palms by generous government subsidies and enormous profit potential in comparison to other crops.
Fresh fruit bunches that farmers sell to oil mills have more than doubled in price as a result of the recent increase in palm oil prices. Oil palm plantations in India were only permitted on less than one million acres, largely in coastal Andhra Pradesh, the state from which Telangana was split off in 2014. This was due to price instability, water scarcity, and a gestation period of about four years. However, Telangana, which is located in an interior part of the Deccan Plateau, is now eager to become India’s main palm oil hub, with an area target that would elevate the state from its current low base to the fifth-largest oil palm grower globally.
The initiative could lessen India’s massive imports of vegetable oil, which cost the nation a record $18.9 billion in 2017 and increased the country’s trade deficit. Two-thirds of India’s vegetable oil needs are met by imports, which total around 14 million tonnes per year and include about 8.5 million tonnes of palm oil. The federal government is eager to boost palm oil production in an effort to reduce those expensive imports, which this year’s high inflation was caused after key supplier Indonesia abruptly stopped supplies.
In order to meet its needs, India imports less than 300,000 tonnes of palm oil that Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand now produce. According to Chava Venkateswara Rao of Godrej Agrovet Ltd, the nation’s largest producer of palm oil, Telangana would achieve a great deal even if it could only cultivate oil palm on 1 million acres and generate 2 million tonnes of palm oil. Up until last year, the nation added about 35,000 acres planted in oil palm per year.
(with inputs from agencies)