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Africa: the new palm oil frontier? Proforest joins the debate

Proforest’s Africa Regional Director, Abraham Baffoe, joined a panel of experts to discuss palm oil development in Africa last month.

Titled ‘Africa the new palm frontier: can we avoid the mistakes of the past?’ the debate was part of a series exploring the palm oil industry, hosted by The Guardian newspaper. It was supported by the Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil, and chaired by journalist Eliza Anyangwe. Abraham was joined on the panel by Rachel Barré from L’Oréal, Tom Lomax of the Forest Peoples Programme and Christopher Stewart of Olam International.

With Africa’s palm oil industry likely to expand, the debate questioned how the palm oil industry in Africa might learn from the mistakes of the past and develop in a way that is socially, economically and environmentally sustainable.

The panel considered a range of approaches for developing the palm oil industry responsibly. These included legal mechanisms and voluntary initiatives, such as certification. Participants highlighted the need for investment in smallholder producers and establishing meaningful dialogue with the communities involved.

Collaboration will be critical for sustainable palm oil development. The Tropical Forest Alliance 2020 Africa Palm Oil Initiative’s Marrakesh Declaration for the Sustainable Development of the Oil Palm sector in Africa, recently signed at the UN climate change conference, was identified as a positive example of on-going public–private collaboration in the development of palm oil in Central and West Africa.

“We can avoid the mistakes of the past if we all work together rather than against each other” – Abraham Baffoe, Proforest

If developed responsibly, palm oil has a significant potential for good. Panellists argued that it has the capacity to provide employment, economic development and reduce poverty. Africa currently imports millions of tonnes of palm oil every year. Abraham highlighted the benefits to be gained through redirecting this demand away from unsustainable imported sources of palm oil to more sustainable, domestically-produced sources.

However, the panel also warned that if not developed responsibly then palm oil has a huge potential for harm. Panellists discussed possible challenges, such as land rights issues and conflict within communities, and agreed that critical attention must be paid to the diverse geographical and cultural contexts of the different countries.

Despite this, the overall message of the debate was one of hope. The event offered a valuable insight into how we can navigate a sustainable palm oil industry in Africa.

Proforest will continue to provide our expertise to support the development of a sustainable palm oil industry in Africa.

To find out more about our work in Africa visit our programmes page.

For more information contact

Read The Guardian’s summary of the discussion.

Published 07.12.2016

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