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WWF Builds Capacity Of Oil Palm Production Investors 

By Joe Dinga Pefok — The World Wide Fund for Nature, WWF, Central Africa Regional Programme Office in Yaounde, has launched an initiative to build awareness and capacity of small holders and agro-industrial companies in oil palm production.

Other relevant partners and stakeholders that will also benefit from the training programme include related government institutions, local and international NGOs, financial and technical partners, research and training institutions and independent service provider bodies.
Other partners in the WWF-led initiative include the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MINADER), CIFOR, Proforest, ZSL, and CIRAD.  

The overall objective of the capacity and awareness building of small holders, agro-industries and the relevant partners and stakeholders, is “for their engagement in the way of strong partnership as solution to sustainable palm oil production and yield improvement, while addressing environmental and social issues associated with oil palm plantations”. The initiative was launched at a two-day consultative workshop which held in Douala recently on improving collaborative partnership between agro-industries and small holder schemes in Cameroon, for the sustainable production of palm oil.

Fighting Poverty

WWF and the other partners in a press release remarked that countries in the Congo Basin including Cameroon are faced with multiple challenges such as poverty reduction, economic growth, food insecurity and the fight against deforestation. They said these countries, in a bid to ensure that these challenges are addressed, have resolved to promote the intensive exploitation of their natural resources as well as promote investments in the agricultural sector.

“In the 2009 framework Strategy Document for Growth and Employment (DSCE) that outlines steps for Cameroon to become an emerging country by 2035, the government is committed to promote large investments by national and international investors in industrial production sectors including agriculture.

The large scale expansion of oil palm plantations is seen as one of the new key drivers for job opportunities and national economic growth,” the release states. It further notes that in recent years, the focus has been on developing the palm oil sector through the improvement of palm oil production and the expansion of areas of oil palm productions.

The growing interest in the oil palm sector in Cameroon is attributed to the fact that the country has been facing an increasing production deficit to meet national demand in palm oil, as well as the fact that there has been an increasing global demand for palm oil at the expense of other vegetable oils. In Cameroon palm oil and kernel oil are not only used for home consumption, but are also used as raw material for the production of soap, bio-fuel and other products.

The Concern Of Conservators

Meanwhile, WWF is deeply concerned with the high level of poverty in Cameroon, and agrees that an increase in palm oil production especially by small holders (nationals), is one of the ways to help reduce poverty especially in rural areas. But the international NGO with mission to protect the environment is worried about the horrible damage that can be caused to the environment by deforestation and pollution, as a result of a system of reckless or irrational expansion of oil palm plantations.

WWF and other NGOs supporting the initiative to promote the sustainable production of palm oil in Cameroon strongly hold the view that the best way to guarantee an increase in palm oil production in the country is not by increasing the size of oil palm plantations, but through appropriate measures to ensure a significant improvement in yields.

The NGOs note that though in the palm oil sector small holders own about 70 percent of existing oil palm plantations as against 30 percent for agro-industrial companies, in terms of production small holders produce barely about 30 percent of national oil palm produce.

This means that as compared to agro-industrial companies, the yield which small holders realize per hectare of surface area is quite low. Even among the five agro-industrial companies that currently own oil palm plantations, the national production statistics for 2013 show big differences in the yields as regards the tonnage of palm oil produced per hectare of land by each company. 

Win-Win Partnership

WWF and partners assert that it requires inputs from many different actors to address the range of different challenges that small holders in the oil palm sector in Cameroon face. “Government agencies, corporate and supply chains can assist small holders in addressing these challenges, thereby supporting them to produce more sustainability. Creating win-win partnership between agro-industries and small holder schemes will be very productive for both parties and decrease land ownership conflicts.

A number of local and international NGOs including WWF, as well as development organizations, expressed their interest to support this initiative,” they say in the press release. The WWF states that the different groups of actors will have different duties or roles to play to promote the Win-Win Partnership Programme between small holders and agro-industrial companies.

Small holders will adopt environment and social best practices, aim at the improvements of yields, and also supply their produce to agro-industrial companies. On their part, agro-industrial companies will install oil mills and mini mills in the different areas, and will also commit themselves to produce certified sustainable palm oil.

As for WWF, it will organise training and capacity building on conservation and best practices, as well develop best practices guidelines and tools, provide technical support to national strategies development and implementation, promote environment and social best practices, and ensure the achievement of conservation goals.   

The Cameroon Government on its part has the responsibility to develop a land use plan and palm oil national strategy, ensure the respect of ‘cahier de charge’ by agro-industrial companies, fix the prices of oil palm produce, reduce taxes on fertilizer and asserts, and provide selected seeds or vegetal to the owners of oil palm plantations.

First published in The Post print edition 01508

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