The African oil palm (Elaeis guineensis) originated in West Africa and grows extensively in this region, but largely as low-yield multi-crop stands in and around villages, where it has been traditionally grown as a subsistence crop in small-scale farming systems for thousands of years. Africa (and West Africa in particular) is a new frontier region for large-scale palm oil production. Many companies that already have existing plantations and other investors are now looking to expand their operations into this region to meet the growing demand for palm oil. Depending on the country, smallholders account for between 70–90% of African oil palm growers.

Yield is much lower in Africa than in Southeast Asia for various reasons, including climate and infrastructural limitations and a predominantly smallholder approach to production. It is debatable whether comparative yields are achievable even with investment and improved growing techniques.

Africa infographic

While Africa remains a net importer of palm oil, African governments see oil palm development as a potential source of tax and export revenue. A growing number of investors, including some of the world’s largest plantation companies, are finding concession areas easier to secure in Africa than in other parts of the world such as Asia. Developments for sustainable palm oil are at the very early stage and are likely to be determined by the pace of agro-industrial project developments. The Africa Palm Oil Initiative (APOI), the first Signature Initiative of the TFA 2020, recognises the ambitious development plans of countries in Africa and aims to help transition the palm oil sector to a sustainable driver of long-term, low-carbon development in the region, through the development and implementation of a set of regional principles for responsible palm oil development.

Central Africa

Democratic Republic of Congo





North Africa




East Africa





Southern Africa

South Africa



West Africa





SPOTT companies in this region


Resources and references


Palm oil production, DR Congo © Nick Hobgood

Last updated: 16/07/2016