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The Unnoticed Gold Mine: Palm Oil Making   
 
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05-Jun-2014  
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Do you know that the oil palm tree has both physical and spiritual importance? The palm tree is considered to be the most blessed tree on Earth by Christians who base their stance on a scripture recorded in Psalm 92:12 which reads: “The righteous shall flourish like the palm tree: He shall grow like a cedar in Lebanon”.

Many people from other religious sects have come to believe the blessings inherent in the palm tree; particularly, its several uses. No part of the oil palm tree goes waste.

In Ghana, the lovers of popular “Apeo or akpeteshie” (alcohol distilled from the palm tree) can bet their last pesewa that the palm tree is really blessed.

Palm wine tappers, as well as palm soup addicts are among the many beneficiaries of the palm tree.

Palm trees are grown in most parts of Ghana including the Western, Central, Ashanti, Volta and Brong Ahafo Regions. However, one major use of the palm tree is highly underexploited in Ghana; that is, palm oil production!

Since time immemorial, palm oil production has been a business venture dominated by women in most villages in Ghana. While men are celebrated for palm wine tapping, palm oil production is the preserve of women.
Some people make palm oil for commercial purposes; others simply extract it for domestic use but it is a principal occupation in areas where oil palm is cultivated.

Palm Oil Production in Frami Village
I was on a bus, heading to Abrafo, a community in the Heman Lower Denkyira District when the numerous palm oil production sheds dotted along the road attracted my attention. I realised that palm oil production was an occupation for the people in the area. I, therefore, decided to visit one of the sheds to satisfy my curiosity.

It was a sunny afternoon when I got to the bamboo-roofed four-room shed where Madam Matilda Baakoh extracts palm oil. She was busily straining oil from a metallic pan in front of her with a piece of cloth wrapped around her waist and a matching headgear.

A big pot filled with palm fruits was being cooked and the fire billowed meandering smoke into the air. A bare-chested man in his early forties stood behind the pot and was stirring its content with a big stick that was longer than himself. The pounded mixture of palm chaff and oil was very slippery.

Raw palm nuts and ashes had been heaped around the shed. Bundles of firewood and logs were packed there as well. Almost everything in the shed was stained with palm oil, which invariably was a sign to welcome you to the small palm-oil extracting factory in Frami.

Madam Matilda told me that the shed provided space for about 150 palm oil makers in Frami town and it belonged to Auntie Yaa Menu who charges them both in cash and in kind before allowing them to work there.

Auntie Yaa Menu too was a palm oil producer. The shed had been in the town for over 10 years. I saw a few crude oil extracting instruments in the shed. It was a busy centre for palm oil makers. They paid GH¢4.50 to mill the palm fruits and afterwards gave one bottle of oil to the shed owner.

Raw materials
In the shed was another veteran palm oil producer, Auntie Abena Mansah.

Auntie Abena said the bunches of palm fruits were either from their own farms or had been bought. They bought some from Jukwa, Mfuom, Odumasi, Abrafo and the surrounding villages in the region. The palm fruits were either sold to them in bunches or containers. Thirty bunches cost GH¢40.

She uses about 15,000 bunches of palm fruits to produce between two and three barrels of palm oil.

The palm fruits, according to her, were in season during Christmas and scarce shortly after the Christmas celebration.

Crude machines
The man I had earlier met at the shed was Kobena Afful. He helped with all the masculine work and charged GH¢5 after pounding a barrel of palm fruits.

“The work is very difficult. Had it not been Afful who has been helping us with the pounding, it would have been difficult for us here”, Auntie Abena said.

She expressed worry that the crude machinery did not help them to fully extract the oil, thus leaving large volumes of it to go waste.
She added that due to the pressure on the equipment, they either ran weekly or monthly shifts, depending on the season. Her shift operates on Mondays and Tuesdays.

Customers
Auntie Abena told me that people from Nigeria, Benin and Cote d’Ivoire, among others, were their customers. The producers also take their products to the Techiman market in the Brong Ahafo Region.

District’s plans
The District Chief Executive (DCE) of the Twifo Heman Lower Denkira, Mr Francis Korankye Sakyi, said the district had put in place a local economic development sub-committee to facilitate the work of the small-scale palm oil producers in the district. That, he said, would help them to derive maximum profit from their work.

Mr Boateng hinted that the district had the raw materials in abundance and if the women in the district who depended on palmoil production were well -resourced, it would reduce unemployment in the area.

He added that plans were far advanced for the palm oil producers to form cooperatives.

Revenue generation
Information on the website of the Ministry of Food and Agriculture as of May 22, 2014 indicates that Ghana’s first international commercial trade in oil palm took place in 1820. It states further that palm oil became the principal export from the then Gold Coast and that by 1880s, palm oil accounted for 75 per cent of the country’s export revenue.

Malaysia, which is currently dominating the world palm oil market, started establishing oil palm plantations with planting materials from Ghana but Ghana currently has an unmet demand of 35,000 tons of palm oil.

It is therefore advisable that since the country cannot afford to solely rely on our traditional exports such as cocoa, timber, gold and the recent oil discovery, we must also focus on palm oil production.

Importation of palm oil
According to a story carried by the Daily Graphic on Monday, February 24 2014, Ghana spent $127 million on the importation of vegetable oil.
A Ghana News Agency report on Monday, July 21, 2008, quoted Mr Kweku Boateng, the Customer Development Manager of Unilever, as having called for the establishment of an oil palm regulatory board to sustain and promote the sector.

Mr Boateng said with the establishment of the board, the activities of palm oil importers could be monitored and that there was no need for the importation of crude palm oil since Ghana was capable of producing the quantity needed by the factories.

The Minister of Food and Agriculture, Mr Clement Kofi Humado, during the inauguration of a GH¢285.569 office complex for the Oil Palm Outgrowers Association (OPOA) at Twifo Ntafrewaso, near Twifo Praso in the Central Region, said the present 32,000 tonnes shortfall in the supply of crude palm oil in the country was likely to increase to 127,000 tonnes by 2024 if the country did not step up the cultivation of oil palm.

Mr Humado also said about 80 per cent of the palm oil produced in the country currently was consumed as food.

Plea to Government
The players in the industry at Frami are calling on the government to grant them loan facilities and modern machinery to enable them to expand their work.
 
 
Source: Daily Graphic
 
 

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