The oil palm tree although very productive and indigenous to West Africa remains under-utilized on many farms in the region. The Solidaridad West Africa project on Sustainable West Africa Palm Oil Programme (SWAPP) funded through a grant from The Dutch Embassy in Ghana hopes to change this practice and increase productivity to improve farm income and livelihoods from palm oil.
Despite the extensive development of the oil palm sector in Ghana, the yield gaps between current and attainable yields are high. Oil palm production in West Africa has limited access to the knowledge that plantations in South-East Asia have gathered over decades in intensifying yields with fertilizer and other agronomic practices.
For most small to medium-scale oil palm farms in Ghana and the sub-region once planted, oil palm trees stands desolate with no weeding, pruning and fertilisation applied. Owners and the farmers neglect the farms and only go seldom to harvest a few fruits.
Ripe fruits are often left to rot on palm trees, while loose ones fallen to the ground are left to germinate volunteer palms which then compete for food with the parent plant. Needless to say the farms also tend to provide little income, a reason why many farmers further neglect the trees.
The recently held training workshop on Best Management Practices (BMP) at Benso Oil Palm Plantation organised by Solidaridad West Africa and its partners, International Plant Nutrition Institute (IPNI), among others was an initiative to equip farmers with the correct farming practices to improve productivity, income and livelihoods from oil palm for both farmers and millers.
Farmers equipped with Best Management Practice skills
There are substantial opportunities to increase yield and profitability on existing land through the implementation of Best Management Practice.SWAPP, IPNI and its partners identified and established 35 BMP plots in Ghana to demonstrate the implementation and management of the best practices required to improve the status quo.
Farmer, Yaw Awusie Antwi of Joe Farms in Akyem Pramkese, has one of his plots selected to be a BMP demonstration. Before the adoption of the BMP, Antwi attests to the fact that once he had planted his fields – he leaves his palm trees to survive all manner of elements such as weeds and no pruning. He also never fertilizes the plants.
“My farms have over the years remained abandoned and I would hardly slash or weed the fields. I never followed the recommended pruning model for the plants. I occasionally went to the plot to harvest the fruits and never managed to pick the loose fruits on the ground,” said Antwi. Among the BMP requirements being introduced by the SWAPP project is regular and correct pruning.
The BMP approach also advocates for regular weeding and fertilization of oil palm and planting of appropriate cover crops and proper as well as timely harvesting of the fruit. BMP further recommends regular harvesting of two harvests per month. Farmers are encouraged to create harvesting circles of a 1.5 metre radius around the plants to ensure easy picking of loose fruits.
Huge potential for West Africa oil palm industry
If best practises are adopted the oil palm industry in West Africa has a huge potential to grow through increased production and possible export of crude palm oil.
“It is possible to increase palm oil production in West Africa especially among smallholder and medium-scale farmers, if they adopt best management practises which can double the productivity,” said Harrie Hendrickx, Solidaridad Regional Manager for Oil Palm.
Speaking at the workshop the Western Region Director for the Ministry of Food and Agriculture, Victor Oka Nai, also emphasized the great potential of the industry to support the sustainable economic development of farmers.
“There is a great potential to increase profit and productivity for both oil palm farms and mills to increase productivity and profits,” said Nai. He further pointed out that the “… Ministry fully appreciates initiatives such as SWAPP and IPNI as a platform to develop and grow the oil palm industry in Ghana and in the region.”
Charles Adu Frimpong, SWAPP agronomist managing the BMP plots in the Western Region of Ghana praised the invaluable role the workshop played in adding knowledge and building capacity for the project.
“The workshop was very useful – we learnt a lot of things needed to rehabilitate oil palm trees on our BMP plots. The knowledge will surely make the BMP framework a practical demonstration for improved productivity to increase income and enhance livelihoods.” said Frimpong.
Contribution by Jabulani Sithole West Africa regional communication officer for Solidaridad