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FEATURE STORY

Betting on Palm Oil

November 19, 2013

STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • AVE PALM, a palm oil production facility, has received modern equipment through the Agriculture Sector Support Project (PASA).
  • The new equipment facilitates the women's work and helps increase output.
  • Many more women are now interested in palm oil production which has become less arduous and more lucrative.

ASSAHOUN, November 19, 2013 - In Togo, the oil palm tree is of special importance and the products derived from it, notably, palm oil (extracted from the pulp) and palm kernel oil (extracted from the kernel), are highly valued. Production of these oils has always been the responsibility of women, but the traditional methods used made the work very arduous.

To make the task less strenuous and increase the sector's output, the palm oil production facility AVE PALM, located in Assahoun (about 50 kilometers northwest of Lomé, the capital of Togo), invested in modern equipment.

Through the competitive financing mechanism established by the Ministry of Agriculture under the Agriculture Sector Support Project (PASA), which promotes entrepreneurship and rural employment, AVE PALM was able to acquire new equipment and machinery (presses, crushers, tricycles, pots, etc.), which have not only helped increase palm kernel processing in the villages, but also created new jobs.

"With the different equipment that we have been able to purchase, the work has become much less arduous for the women, and interest in palm oil production has increased significantly in the communities. In the prefecture of Agou alone [where Assahoun is located], for example, palm oil producers have increased from 240 to over 500 at present," said Mr. Agbo, the director and developer of AVE PALM, a company created in 2004. The number of palm kernel oil producers in Assahoun has also risen, from 20 to 44.

Open Quotes

Today, with this new equipment, we are able to do a week's worth of work practically in a single day and our fingers are now lovely to look at. Close Quotes

Ms Yawa
A worker at AVE PALM

The women welcome the marked improvement in their working conditions. "We used to have to remove the stalks to extract the palm kernels by hand, and we would always get cuts on our fingers from the thorns. Then we had to grind the kernels in a mortar and manually extract the raw palm oil; all of that took a lot of time. Today, with this new equipment, we are able to do a week's worth of work practically in a single day and our fingers are now lovely to look at," states Ms. Yawa, one of the women we met at the facility.

Meanwhile Adjonon, who is in charge of one of the women's groups working at the facility, emphasizes the higher productivity levels and the increase in their financial resources since the new equipment became available.

"Our group has 40 members. We purchase the palm kernels at the markets and come here to press them with the new machines. We prepare the oil on site. With this new equipment, our group manages to produce up to 10 tons of oil per week--against just about 3 tons previously--and selling it brings in close to CFAF 5 million per week," she notes. "We set aside what we need to continue our work and a portion of the profit is used for the household and the health and education of our children," Adjonon states.

As expected, neighboring villages are also seeking to benefit from this equipment. The solution found by the project developer to respond to the demand while waiting for additional resources is quite simple:

"All the villages want to have their own presses.  The solution we found is to mount the machines on a platform that we tow from village to village with a tricycle in order to respond to increasingly strong demand. We now need more equipment to service this strong demand," says Mr. Agbo.

He even envisions seeking additional financing to create a "mini-refinery." The entrepreneur would also like to promote the establishment of an oil palm tree recovery plan in Togo, "but on a human scale so that each plantation can be equipped and produce its oil on site," he adds. A dream that the PASA could perhaps help bring to fruition with the establishment of a bank guarantee fund for investments in the agribusiness sector.

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The PASA is one of the three key nationwide projects developed within the framework of the National Agriculture and Food Security Investment Program (PNIASA) in Togo. It aims to rehabilitate and strengthen beneficiaries' productive capacities in selected sectors and better develop production sectors, by promoting product processing and sale on the Togolese market and neighboring markets in the subregion. The PASA receives financing amounting to US$37 million (close to CFAF 18.5 billion) from the World Bank, the Global Agriculture and Food Security Program (GAFSP), and the Global Food Crisis Response Program (GFRP).