The oil palm tree is a tropical perennial crop native to Africa with excellent benefits. Per hectare, it is the most productive oil crop in the world, being 10 times more productive than soybean and other oil bearing seeds. Of the 17 major vegetable oils traded on the international market, palm oil is the most important and accounts for more than half of global import and export trade. Oil palm plantations on the other hand are as effective as rain forests in reducing carbon dioxide, a critical contributor to global warming. An oil palm plantation ensures better climatic conditions and in addition provides more employment than forest. The World Bank explains it provides more jobs per hectare than other large scale farming (employing about 1 person per acre), and the jobs are year-round rather than seasonal. These features of the crop are being harnessed on large and efficient scale by countries in the Asian tropics (Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, etc) reflected by their lead roles in oil palm products like the crude palm oil (CPO).
However, since the cultivation of Oil palm in Africa, the share of Africa in global commercial palm oil production has not fared well, dropping from about 27% in 1980 to 3% in 2011. West Africa dominates palm oil production in Africa but currently production is insufficient to cater for the growing domestic demand in Africa and most African countries are net importers of palm oil. Nevertheless, today palm oil, which comes from oil palm trees, feeds more than three billion people worldwide in more than 150 countries. Its increased consumption is attributed to its high versatility. It can be found in more than 40% of packaged products in an average supermarket, including edible items such as cooking oils, margarine, mayonnaise, ice cream, cookies, and chocolates; and non-edible items such as soaps, detergents, and cosmetics. Palm oil is also used as an emollient in both the metal and leather industries as well as palm kernel meal is used as fertilizer and livestock feed. More recently, in response to growing global demand for renewable energy, biodiesel manufacturing now also uses palm oil.
In spite of how potent and glaring the Palm oil agribusiness is, there still exists a critical situation present in our country Ghana:
1. Total area of oil palm lands cultivated are 336,000ha out of 1 million hectares available, utilizing only 10% of potential lands, leaving 664,000ha suitable lands uncultivated; twice much as existing cultivation.
2. 80 %(268,800ha) of Ghana’s existing plantations are all cultivated by private small-scale farmers who mostly use unimproved planting materials and farming methods.
3. 80 (%) of Ghana’s produced Crude Palm Oil (CPO) are all from small scale plantation holders and millers, who use inefficient milling machineries and crude methods.
4. Ghana was the first country where the British established oil palm plantations in the 19th century. The same seeds and production techniques were then used to establish palm oil estates in another British colony, Malaysia. Despite the common root, the palm oil value chain in Malaysia and Ghana took two divergent development pathways. Malaysia is now the world second largest palm oil producer and exporter after Indonesia, while Ghana ranks 15th in terms of production quantity.
5. GOPDA (Ghana Oil Palm Development Association) an apex body comparable to COCOABOD; was established in 1985 to implement the sustainability of the oil palm industry, COCOABOD lives on strong , GOPDA; still hoping to get better!
So this brings the effects:
1. Now Ghana produces 243,852mt of CPO but with a local demand of 295,000 mt, indicating a deficit of over 35, 000 mt annually, leaving the idea of CPO exports in the shadows.
2. Presently Ghana imports over 30,000mt CPO annually from Asia with Governments spending almost USD $100million annually on this importation to make up the deficit.
3. Ghana’s CPO production has become insufficient, below local demands, hence her contribution to the regional production hasn’t been much different:
4. Not ending these challenges, comes a more intense issue of how quality the few quantities of palm oil produced within the country are “the recent reportage of poisonous substances found in Palm oil”.
It is disheartening, for such incidents to be happening in our Nation & Continent as It downplays the progress of the industries under scrutiny making them more vulnerable. As a young organisation in the oil palm industry, we express our concern stating:” There is no justification for putting poisonous substance in a commodity which is supposed to be consumed by Humans”. What will be the essence; will we be producing Poison or Food?” In view of this we express worry over the reported incidence of Sudan IV and III found in palm oil on the local market but notwithstanding we say, in as much as there have been bad nuts identified, there should be a notion that still good ones exist…So we hope the good ones expand and shadow the doings of the bad nuts. Such incidents resurfacing on consumer markets, only but reechoes stories that have occurred earlier and suggest that perhaps, not much was done after earlier incidents were reported. Some months ago (August 2015 :http://goo.gl/EZJrGJ) came a story where a palm oil supplier was busted in UK on an adulterated product, 3 months forward and it occurs again ( see:http://goo.gl/9PCcZb). It might not be time to point out blames, but it could also be perhaps; our attention to this business (agribusiness) a genuine source of livelihood and food has just not been enough. YES, that is what we have done, resulting in all what we see and hear now. We do not need much more literature to comprehend the importance of this crop and its products to man. With so much information displayed on Oil Palm from the records, It is time GHANA rises over just discussing the news, and get on our feet to work out a solution addressing such sensitive issues of our lives. The perpetrators are at fault, but the unconcerned can’t be left out as well. Palm oil is an important part of our lives; hence the time has come to rejuvenate our muscles and ideas to get back to the fields tilling the lands to produce the right product beneficial to our health.
We at Green Afro-Palms (GAP) suggest: Ghana should invest more to bridge the gap, of just small scale farmers left unassisted to produce the majority of the Palm oil in the nation. It is time to empower the oil palm industry to give us the best of what we expect of it.
Empowering the oil palm industry means:
a) Finding the right strategies to transform small-scale village oil palm farming and palm oil production into more commercial and sustainable sector because the oil palm industry in Ghana has always been dominated by small-scale producers and are still dominant actors currently contributing over 80% production of FFB and palm oil in the country;
b) Accelerating the production of (Fresh Fruit Bunches) FFB to attract industrial investments and the expansion of milling capacities following implementation of programmes which increases FFB supply;
d) Improving on the productivity of oil palm plantations and mills of all sizes to improve on FFB and palm oil quality for edible and industrial consumption;
f) Improving competitiveness of Ghanaian palm oil in the domestic and international markets through rapid expansion of the industry;
h) Diversification of the structure of the economy which relies on cocoa, gold and timber exported as primary products and raw materials to greater contribution from exports of industrial goods and services to generate regular employment and income. This includes import substitution and self sufficiency in vegetable oil production;
We believe this is achievable;as some countries Malaysia and Indonesia have done it, conversely, even if these nation’s appear far from us, just over our shoulders is Cote’ d’Ivoire who has made it too. We the youth have commenced in Africa’s Agriculture reorganizing the chapters until change as we require become a reality. However, this would require concerted efforts from governments, research institutions, private financiers, and extension officers to underwrite the proper understanding and implementation of the best cultural practices for oil palm farming and palm oil production together in our Nation. God bless us and all stake holders as we work to see this dream into reality.
Author: Ababio Kwame, a young Ghanaian farmer, Co-founder & CEO of Green Afro-palms: an agro organization causing facelift to the Sub Saharan Agricultural framework, driving the youth and small scale farmers into vibrant agriculture through best practices for cultivating oil palm plantations and value chain processing of palm oil; selecting and presenting Oil Palm as an alternative commodity for vegetating our degrading environment, generating jobs, incomes and sustainable livelihoods. See: www.facebook.com/greenafropalms, https://youtu.be/_7XZPgFjm3k, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Green Afro-Palms… keep the fields green…!
Resource Information Sources:
(World Wildlife: http://goo.gl/t6r49K)
Africa Progress report, 2014
(MASDAR, Oil palm report 2011)
Ministry of Agriculture Ghana
(Oil World, 2013)
KILM (ILO): http://goo.gl/vTy4aU