From words to impacts: The research behind Cameroon’s sustainable palm oil policy

They had hoped to incite debate. Instead, the authors of a report on oil palm development in Cameroon discovered that they had spurred a national strategy.
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Cameroon has the potential to at least double its palm oil production and eliminate its dependence on imports, without having to encroach on any additional land. Nathan Cooke

Cameroon has the potential to at least double its palm oil production and eliminate its dependence on imports, without having to encroach on any additional land. Nathan Cooke

YAOUNDE, Cameroon (12 June, 2013)_They had hoped to incite debate. Instead, the authors of a report on oil palm development in Cameroon discovered that they had spurred a national strategy.

“The message we wanted to pass to policymakers and NGOs was that oil palm development can strongly boost economic development and reduce rural poverty—but not just anywhere or anyhow,” said Patrice Levang of the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) and the Institute of Research for Development (IRD).

That message was heard, Levang learned while at CIFOR’s Sustainable Forest Management in Central Africa conference.

“During the conference, it was clear that members of the Ministry of Agriculture had not only heard and adopted the message, but were well on track to putting it into action with the development of a plan for a sustainable, national oil palm development strategy,” he said.

The report, co-authored with WWF, called for the creation of such a strategy, to be used as a road map in Cameroon and as a potential model for other parts of the Congo Basin. It recommended addressing multiple components, starting with ways to increase yields.

According to Cameroon’s Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, small-scale producers in Cameroon generate yields of less than 1 ton of palm oil per hectare. Agro-industry yields are just over 2 tons per hectare. And in Indonesia and Malaysia, small-scale plantations achieve yields of 4 tons per hectare—more than four times those of their Cameroonian counterparts.

“Cameroon has the potential to at least double its palm oil production and eliminate its dependence on imports, without having to encroach on any additional land,” Levang explained.

“Tripling production is very feasible too, and would transform the country from a net importer to a palm oil exporter.”

The report recommends improving access to good seed, fertilizers and agronomic advice to boost smallholders’ productivity. But policy and market changes would need to address the high fertilizer prices in Cameroon (four times those of Malaysia) and the difficulties farmers encounter trying to purchase quality seed, Levang noted.

We can see directly how the research has helped serve a purpose for creating positive, tangible changes that could help lead to better outcomes for communities, conservation and the country.

Other recommendations include using lands that are already degraded or deforested for oil palm expansion, and improving transparency by adopting the principles of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO).

Ensuring that at least 30% of the total area is reserved for new agro-industries planning to develop plantations in Cameroon is a further recommendation, based on successful models implemented in Southeast Asia.

These recommendations found their way into the terms of reference for the drafting of a national strategy on the sustainable development of the palm oil sector in Cameroon. The terms include three broad thematic areas to be assessed and integrated in the plan: socioeconomic and environmental factors; structural and organizational framework; and institutional, legal and operational structure.

With ambitious plans for palm oil expansion already underway in many parts of Africa, there is also a need to ensure that adequate statutory provisions are made to promote socially and environmentally sustainable oil palm production systems to avoid rising land prices, conflicts, water pollution and soil erosion, Levang said.

“We should not limit the discussion simply to production and productivity.”

The high-level buy-in and leadership from ministry officials are encouraging, said Levang, noting also the participation of organizations that were formerly opposed to any palm oil development.

“Here, we have had the opportunity to see directly how the research has helped serve a purpose for creating positive, tangible changes that could help lead to better outcomes for communities, conservation and the country.”

The national plan, which is still to undergo drafting, review, validation and finalization, is scheduled to be completed in early 2014.

For more information on the issues discussed in this article, please contact Patrice Levang at p.levang@cgiar.org

This research was carried out as part of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry.

 

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