Smallholder farmers are key to make palm oil industry sustainable

28Oct 2019
The Guardian
Smallholder farmers are key to make palm oil industry sustainable

Tanzania Agricultural Development Bank (TADB) is devising a strategy that will help to boost palm oil production in Kigoma. It is estimated that Tanzania imports at least 400,000 tonnes of palm oil annually despite its potential to grow different oilseeds.Palm oil is an edible vegetable oil-

- derived from the  reddish pulp  of the fruit of the oil palms, primarily the African oil palm.  Palm oil is naturally reddish in colour because of a high beta-carotene content.

It is not to be confused with palm kernel oil derived from the kernel of the same fruit  or coconut oil derived from the kernel of the coconut palm .The differences are in colour (raw palm kernel oil lacks carotenoids and is not red , and in saturated fat content: palm mesocarp oil is 49 per cent saturated, while palm kernel oil and coconut oil are 81 per cent and 86 per cent saturated fats, respectively.

The oil palm produces bunches containing a large number of fruits with the fleshy mesocarp enclosing a kernel that is covered by a very hard shell. FAO considers palm oil (coming from the pulp) and palm kernels to be primary products. Along with coconut oil, palm oil is one of the few highly saturated vegetable fats and is semisolid at room temperature.  Palm oil is a common cooking ingredient in the tropical belt of Africa, Southeast Asia and parts of Brazil. Its use in the commercial food industry in other parts of the world is widespread because of its lower cost  and the high oxidative stability (saturation) of the refined product when used for frying.

Tanzania, like other African nations along the equator in East and West Africa, is investing to boost the cultivation of oil palm and production of palm oil. The Tanzanian government has announced a plan to set aside some US$4.3 million to boost plantation area and output in the Kigoma region of the country, where 80 per cent of the country’s palm oil is currently produced.

Native to West Africa, suitable climate and soil have also made oil palm a potentially attractive crop in East Africa. The goal of the investment is not to groom palm oil as an export, but to reduce the imports of edible vegetable oils – in line with similar plans announced in Nigeria, Cameroon and Uganda. Beyond cultivation, Tanzania is also looking into upgrading the palm oil processing facility in Kwitanga and to also make the former prison the national research centre of palm oil.

Tanzania imports some 55 per cent of the country’s total edible oil consumption, mainly palm oil and sunflower oil. National palm oil demand is estimated to be some 600,000 tons; domestic production is tiny and the majority of imported palm oil is sourced from Malaysia.Planted areas in Tanzania are currently estimated to be less than 50,000 hectares, but the significant local and foreign investment could triple that area over the next five years.

Oil palm is one of the main sources of cooking oil worldwide and Tanzania in particular. The crop has the highest yields of edible oil per hectare than all other oil-producing crops like sunflower, sesame, groundnut, cotton, and soybean..

In Tanzania, palm oil is the most consumed oil due to its widespread availability and, at a relative lower-price. In 2016, Tanzania edible oil consumption was estimated to be 570,000 MT, 64 per cent of it being palm oil. Tanzania spends about 432 billion shillings per year to import edible oil from foreign countries. 

In Tanzania, oil palm production is mainly concentrated in Kigoma region, which accounts for more than 80 percent of all oil palm production in Tanzania.

To ensure availability of enough edible oil and reducing expenditures on acquisition of edible oil from foreign countries, Tanzania is now promoting oil palm production.