Reforming of extension services to improve palm oil milling and waste management

Abstract

The Anjong Young Farmers Group (AYFG) has helped improve oil palm production and waste management practices of the rural communities living in the Ngie and Widikum sub divisions in Northwest Cameroon. Despite many challenges, our members have helped run the Teze oil palm mill and spread manual oil palm press technologies so that villagers have alternatives to manual oil palm processing. Companies buy red palm oil from the AYFG to add to margarine, detergents, mayonnaise, and candles. Animal feed is produced from palm kernel shells in the form of kernel cake and sold to livestock farmers. We are working with the government and other organisations to provide agricultural training on how to improve agricultural practices, including how to use the manual oil palm presses.

The AYFG has helped communities to become more aware of the impact of oil palm plantations on biodiversity and aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems as well as on community livelihoods. Our activities have led to improvements in oil palm processing safety, yields, and the quality of life among these communities. We also aimed at installing a waste management plant to process oil palm by-products as a way to generate more income, create jobs, and market other by-products of red palm oil, such as organic manure, to our farmer customers.

Keywords: manual oil palm press, Cameroon, palm oil mill access, waste management, smallholders, capacity building

Background situation

The rural communities in the Ngie and Widikum sub divisions in Northwest Cameroon are heavily dependent on agriculture for most of their livelihoods, producing palm oil, beans, cocoyam, cassava, coffee, cocoa, and raffia and tending livestock. Each family in the Ngie and Widikum communities typically has around 100 oil palm trees, of which the majority are wild dura oil palms, with a few tenera oil palms. With more than half of the oil palms being over 50 years old, production is in decline. The farmers in these two subdivisions have been struggling to increase yields and bring themselves out of poverty for the past several decades. Women often process the oil palm fresh fruit bunches by hand, which is hard work, inefficient, and unhygienic.

Despite the installation of the Teze oil palm mill in 1984 by the Dutch development agencies HIVOS and SNV, farmers in Ngie and Widikum still lacked easy access to mechanical palm oil milling, because recommendations to the HIVOS board by community leaders from both Ngie and Widikum to locate the mill nearer to the oil palm producers at the border of the sub divisions were not taken on board. Instead, the facility was built in a neighbouring, sparsely populated area of Ngie in an attempt to foster development in these communities. This decision has had long-lasting consequences for the families growing oil palms in Ngie and Widikum communities.

High transportation costs caused the mill to operate at a loss. Farmers that chose to sell their oil palm fresh fruit bunches (FFBs) to be processed at the Teze mill had to carry the FFBs on their heads to the main road, where they were purchased by a government driver and loaded onto a truck.

Man carrying fresh fruit bunch to mill ©AYFG

Man carrying fresh fruit bunch to mill ©AYFG

FFBs were mainly sold along the main road running through Ngie and Widikum, and farmers were paid on the spot for their FFBs. HIVOS and SNV staff alternately ran the mill from 1984 until 1993, when the mill closed due to insufficient supply. Three years later, in 1996, a Dutch catholic priest who had been living and working in Cameroon for many years reopened the oil palm mill to promote community development. The local community donated some money to help pay for equipment repairs for the mill and help buy the first FFBs from the farmers.

However, lack of easy access to the mill continued to be a key barrier to the success of the scheme. The access road to the mill was poorly maintained, and the trucks transporting the FFBs frequently broke down. This meant that FFBs sometimes spoiled because they did not get to the mill quickly enough. The mill continued to run at levels well below capacity and barely made a profit, compounded by a succession of management and legal problems, and eventually ownership of the mill was transferred to the community in 2002.

Since then, members of the AYFG, a non-profit based in Ngie sub division, have helped with the management of the Teze Mill. The AYFG was formed in 2003 with the vision to improve the livelihoods of rural people in Ngie and Widikum, while responsibly stewarding our natural resources. Over the years, our organisation has grown from 10 members to more than 60 members with a diverse range of skills, including mechanical engineering, agriculture, soap production, management, and marketing. To achieve our vision, we have been supporting each other and other farmers to adopt better oil palm cultivation practices and waste management to mitigate the negative impacts on wildlife, forests, and waterways and adapt to our changing climate.

Our goal is to improve the capacity of all the farmers in Ngie and Widikum in the next five to ten years. To achieve this, AYFG provides an array of services for farmers, including:

  • Assisting with maintaining Teze mill operations, buying FFBs from the community for processing, and monitoring the programme
  • Establishing hand-held oil palm presses for community members
  • Recycling oil palm by-products such as oil palm kernels to produce kernel cake for animal feed and kernel oil and palm oil for the production of soap
  • Processing palm oil sludge and waste vegetable oil to produce biodiesel
  • Training farmers in agricultural best practices
  • Supporting other agricultural activities

AYFG avidly seeks local and international partners to collaborate in the implementation of its projects. For example, as the AYFG president, I received training on enterprise management and relationship management in 2011 through my participation in the pilot project of the SEED Initiative for environmental entrepreneurs. I have also received training from the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD). All of this knowledge I have gained, I am sharing with other members of AYFG to facilitate better understanding of how to run and manage our projects. Also, we work hard to collaborate and share information about the project amongst members and partner organisations.

We recognise that different members possess different skillsets and are careful to delegate different project responsibilities accordingly. The community is supportive, attending and participating in many of our meetings and training sessions. We also work closely with smallholder farmers, SPIRE Cameroon (a development non-profit), a local women’s youth group, and the Ngie municipal council traditional authority. We have the support of the government, and we have local administration in place. Whenever we have meetings we invite extension workers to participate and provide us with advice. The government also provides us with an enabling environment to operate our project through the implementation of good polices.

Options and action

As the president of AYFG, I saw an opportunity for our organisation to improve the community and environment by recycling oil palm by–products through sustainable oil palm waste management. We believe that these by-products can be managed and reprocessed in a way to create new products, providing additional sources of income for families who depend on red palm oil for their livelihoods. This would help us to achieve our objective of improving the livelihoods of the community.

To reprocess the oil palm by-products most effectively, AYFG is seeking to install a processing and waste management plant on a site that is collectively agreed upon by all AYFG members and the community. We want to produce soap from kernel oil and palm oil, animal feed from palm kernel cake, and biodiesel from waste palm oil and sludge oil. AYFG would buy oil palm bunches, palm kernels, and waste oil from farmers for processing in the waste management plant. This newer and closer facility would provide families with an alternative to the Teze Oil Mill, which is far away and inconvenient for family growers to use. To date AYFG is the only organisation undertaking any palm oil waste management in these two subdivisions. We are looking for partners and financers so that we can secure sufficient capital to install the waste management plant.

Many oil palm producers within the community have decided to forgo selling their FFBs, because the costs and time spent transporting their FFBs are too high. Given the unreliability of the transport, some oil palm farmers will carry their FFBs on their head all the way to the mill. Instead many community members are now manually milling their FFBs, which is a labour intensive, time consuming, and potentially dangerous undertaking that is much less efficient and produces less palm oil than an industrial mill.

As an interim measure, AYFG has strived to introduce mobile mechanical hand presses for processing oil palms to reduce labour for women, improve sanitation when extracting red palm oil, and increase the milling efficiency. At the behest of a local businessman, I designed a stationary mechanical press prototype with a diesel engine. The first prototype was not robust enough and was not easy to use and maintain. The second had a simpler design—it did not need fuel and could be taken apart easily for repairs. It could also be carried to various sites to be shared among more farmers. After being provided with the design, a mechanical technician, who was also an AYFG member, helped us to manufacture the machines in his workshop for a discounted price of around £250.

By 2010, AYFG had set up five mobile mechanical presses for processing palm oil in Ngie and Widikum, with 30 more mechanical hand presses being bought by individual farmers in 2012. These farmers allow others in the community to use their presses for a rental fee. The on-going challenges of transporting FFBs to be milled are reflected in the uptake of these portable oil palm presses, which can be transported to areas that might otherwise be inaccessible. Families have started selling palm kernels to generate additional income, which has enabled some families to keep their kids in school.

The communities that have received these devices have been very appreciative of our project and supplied oil palm fruits for the trialling period for our mechanical presses. The machines are able to process three drums of oil palm fruits in three hours, which although it is a small amount is an improvement on the status quo—normally it takes four people 14 hours to process this amount manually.

The price of the palm oil produced is not regulated, so the customers, not the producers, determine the price.We regularly provide community training in an effort to build capacity and make sure that the communities are able to take advantage of our services and tools, such as the mechanical oil palm presses. For example, we have focused on training women and young people to use the manual oil palm presses and plan to train them to work in the processing plant when it is installed. In particular we place a great priority on developing capacity among women in Ngie communities to produce and advertise oil palm products because through their empowerment the prospects for their entire families can improve. We are also training communities on how climate change impacts food production to help them plan for potential problems like drought, pests, and decreased yields associated with climate change. We encourage government representatives and traditional leaders to come to these trainings to provide advice and support. To publicise our events, we advertise via local radio and television stations, telephone, our website, fliers, handouts, and word of mouth.

Outcomes and conclusion

Given the challenges that arose throughout the establishment and operation of the Teze oil palm mill, we learned that the mill was most productive and successful when it was run by someone with a technical background. My technical background and experience have allowed me to manage the Teze mill for now. Through our monitoring of the Teze mill, we identified that certain community members and mill drivers were complicit in misreporting their sales and splitting the difference between them. This has now been addressed and we will continue monitoring and transitioning to paying suppliers onsite for the quantity of FFBs received.The on-going challenges of oil palm milling and waste management faced by the communities despite the establishment of the mill in 1984 reflect the importance of participatory site location based on careful evaluation of local needs rather than political agendas. Ensuring that the roads and infrastructure between the fields and the mill are maintained is also really important, which is why we plan to locate the future mill nearer to Widikum, where the roads are better and the electricity is more consistent. The legal and management challenges that we have faced have confirmed our desire to have the mill community owned and run to ensure that it is operated and managed by people who have a long-term stake in the community.We anticipate that the establishment of the new mill will create more jobs, market opportunities, and alternative sources of income and will ultimately contribute to increased income levels in the community. We also believe that it will contribute to a decline in milling-related accidents, which are being recorded in the local health centre as a key performance indictor of community improvement.The production of soap, animal feed, biodiesel, and manure and the sale of palm oil will continue to sustain the Group. Profits will also be invested in improving health and sanitation for primary schools, conservation measures, and other community initiatives. For example, AYFG awarded three cash prizes for the cleanest compound and toilet in Bonambuefie village in Ngie in 2010 and 2011. Ultimately, the success and future sustainability of the project will depend on the continued commitment and hard work of our members to continue improving their practices. We feel that our success as an organisation has come from continued community engagement and support for a shared goal to improve the livelihoods of rural people in Ngie and Widikum.

References

Hyman, E. L., 1988. Prospects for the Palm Oil Industry in Cameroon. Bureau for Science and Technology, United States Agency for International Development (USAID). Submission to Journal of Developing Areas. Accessed 6 November 2012: http://pdf.usaid.gov/pdf_docs/PNABB078.pdf.

Prepared by: Eldad Chenang Umenjoh
Position: President
Organisation: Anjong Young Farmers Group Cameroon
Date: October 20th, 2012
Contact: elumenjoh@hotmail.co.uk