Government must be serious with its commitment to the oil palm sector as it holds tremendous potential to create jobs and reduce poverty, says Harrie Hendrickx, Regional Oil Palm Programme Manager of Solidaridad, a global investor in sustainable agricultural supply chains.
Oil palm is the fifth-largest crop in Ghana in terms of area planted after cocoa, maize, cassava and yam. Approximately 305,758 hectares of plantation is being cultivated nationwide, with an additional 20,000 hectares needed to meet local demand.
Ghana is a net importer of the crop, with the gap in the order of 50,000 metric tonnes per year -- a figure estimated to hit over 150,000 metric tonnes by the next 15 years.
“Ghana has a very competitive location for oil palm development compared to its immediate neighbours and top global growers,” said
Mr. Hendrickx in an interview with the B&FT. “There is a great opportunity for making a lot of money within the sector and involving more people.”
Speaking at a training programme to educate oil palm farmers on new farming techniques to increase productivity and profitability,
Mr. Hendrikx shared the concerns of farmers who complained of neglect by government despite the crop’s huge potential.
“In the oil palm sector, farmers experience very little help from government. There are no extension officers to provide training to any farmer. Nobody tells us what to grow, how to farm, how to get higher productivity or learn new farming and agronomic techniques. We are left alone in the business, unlike farmers of cash crops such as cocoa and rubber,” said Kwame Adentwi, a farmer in Abekwasi in the Western Region.
He said the lack of financial support from government and banks, lack of appropriate pricing for their commodity, and no input subsidies all combine to deprive them of a decent livelihood from the crop.
Mr. Hendrikx added that land ownership is a challenge that must be fixed if farmers are to expand their production beyond the subsistence level.
Three years ago, government published an oil palm master-plan that set out a strategy to boost production and farmers’ competitiveness, but growers say the words have not been followed by actions.
Ghana’s first international commercial trade in oil palm took place in 1820. Starting from wild harvesting, oil palm evolved into an agricultural crop and plantations were established by 1850.
In the 1880s, the crop accounted for 75 percent of export revenue until it was overtaken by cocoa in 1911. Global production of oil palm is estimated by the United States Department of Agriculture at 50.28 million metric tonnes in the crop-year ending September 2011. Africa’s share dropped from about 27 percent in 1980 to 3 percent in 2011.
Indonesia and Malaysia are the top-two growers, accounting for 85 percent of world production.
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