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Ghana's Economic Future In The Palm Of Its Hands   
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As Ghana's finest athletes head for London to compete in the Olympic
Games, British Prime Minister David Cameron is preparing to host a 'Hunger Summit' during the Games to discuss how private sector investment can help improve global access to food and nutrition.

Earlier this year, at both the G8 Summit in the United States and the Rio+20 Summit for SustainablenDevelopment in Brazil, world leaders committed to improve food production in the developing world while emphasizing the need for poverty alleviation.

Valuable lessons can be learned about increasing food productivity and
achieving prosperity by studying the experiences of oil palm small
farmers. Countries like Malaysia have witnessed rising living standards and wealth creation among hundreds of thousands of small farmers by focusing on palm oil production. Over time, Malaysia's Federal Land Development Authority (FELDA) has helped lift these farmers out of poverty, as have other small farmer schemes in the country.

Ghana should follow the legacy of former President John Kufuor and look to emulate Malaysia's achievements in order to tackle rural poverty. In our country alone - where 80 percent of land under oil palms is cultivated by private small scale farmers - demand for vegetable oil outstrips supply and we face a yearly deficit of some 35,000 tonnes of palm oil. Palm cultivation must rise to meet this demand and as a result deliver rising incomes to Ghanaian small farmers.

Minister for Food and Agriculture, Mr Kwesi Ahwoi, recently announced that Ghana would support two new oil palm out-grower schemes in 2013. The Government launched an Oil Palm Development Master Plan on July 11, which outlines how the nation can boost its competitiveness in the global vegetable oil markets over the next 15 years. The plan details the development of 50,000 hectares, 40,000 of which will be committed to an outgrower scheme. These are steps in the right direction.

And our Liberian neighbours have also sought to harness the potential of palm oil to lift many out of poverty by committing to develop palm oil plantations across the country and working with private sector partners from Malaysia to set up a 44,000 hectares scheme which will provide jobs and other community benefits.

However, in recent years, new barriers have been erected, blocking this path to prosperity. These barriers seriously endanger the growth and development potential of Africa's palm oil sector. For instance, an unscrupulous and coordinated campaign is being waged in Europe to bar palm oil from markets in that continent. Sadly, these campaigns are being advanced to protect domestic European industrial interests, but they undermine the aims of Rio+20 to secure global food security and poverty reduction.

France is an instructive example. Retailers and manufacturers there have reduced their use of palm oil, replacing it with more expensive, less sustainable, and less healthy alternatives. Some French industry players are going further: using expensive national advertising campaigns to propagate misinformation about palm oil's environmental or health impact.

The reality is that palm oil is the highest-yielding vegetable oil on the planet, and therefore carries the lowest land footprint of any oilseed crop. Similarly, a substantial body of scientific research has found that palm oil is as healthy as olive oil and fortified with nutrients, including vitamins A and E, thereby providing an important food staple for poor Ghanaian families and affluent French consumers alike.

By refusing to source palm oil, French retailers and manufacturers are
undermining the livelihoods of Ghanaian palm oil farmers, at the expense of poverty alleviation and food security. Rather than refusing to source palm oil, companies like Casino, Systeme U and Lesieur would be well-served to follow the example of their French counterpart Carrefour who has recently committed to buying palm oil produced by small, sustainable Indonesian and Malaysian farmers. Such a commitment would reflect support for recent remarks made by the President of the UN's International Fund for Agricultural Development, Kanayo Nwanze, who highlighted the need to support smallholder farmers at the Rio+20 Conference. Committing to sourcing palm oil is also in the interest of French consumers who will benefit from a superior edible oil for their nutritional needs.

Fortunately, many other parts of French society continue to support and endorse the benefits of palm oil. The Agence Francaise de Developpement (AFD), the Frenchdevelopment agency, has agreed to provide financing to the Ghanaian government to implement its outgrower scheme for 2012, which is expected to help 750 farmers cultivate 3,000 hectares of oil palm. This project will be launched in August and is part of the Government's plan to harness what Mr. Baidoo-Williams has described as the tremendous potential
of the oil palm industry, 'to create jobs, reduce poverty and contribute to the development of the economy'.

The French Government now has the opportunity to demonstrate greater
support for Ghana's development. By urging French companies to support
Africa's palm oil farmers and begin using palm oil once again, France will be showing leadership in supporting wealth creation and global food security, and firmly demonstrate France's commitment to global welfare and prosperity. French consumers will even get a better, cheaper product in the bargain.

Source: Franklin Cudjoe is the President of Ghana's IMANI Center for Policy and Education.

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