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Ngoyaï Gbaayegie Group first African independent smallholders to gain RSPO certification

In Sierra Leone, the first Independent Smallholders Group in Africa has been certified by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO). Despite coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic challenges, the Ngoyaï Gbaayegie Group, within the catchment of Goldtree Sierra Leone Ltd., has achieved certification covering 4 983 Independent Smallholders who own a total land area of 8 667 hectares (ha).

In Sierra Leone, the Ngoyaï Gbaayegie Group, within the catchment of palm oil processor Goldtree Sierra Leone Ltd has become the first Independent Smallholders Group in Africa to be certified by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) and the single largest group certification across all regions to date (photo courtesy Goldtree).

Palm oil holds a significant place in Africa as the oil palm (Elaeis guineensis) is indigenous to equatorial Africa and its use as a basic food crop has been vital to the inhabitants of the equatorial regions in Africa as far back as 3 000 BC in Egypt.

Presently, the African region is estimated to have more than 4 million hectares (ha) of oil palm production area across over 22 countries. As an emerging market for palm oil, the region accounts for approximately 5 percent of global palm oil output, and at least 10 percent of the global palm oil demand.

Smallholders dominate the production area

Being a new frontier for commercial oil palm expansion, there are ongoing investments in the sector, with projections of exponential increment in the land area under commercial oil palm production.

Oil palm production in Africa is dominated by several hundred thousand smallholder farmers, with typically 1-2 hectare holdings, who are estimated to account for an average of 70 percent of the total production area.

These smallholdings have great opportunities for sustainable improvement as they are faced with challenges of poor management practices, poor planting materials, and very low yields – an average of 2-4 tonnes of Fresh Fruit Bunches (FFB) per ha.

While commercial estates account for less than 30 percent of the production area, they are better managed and higher-yielding averaging 16-18 tonnes of FFB per ha.

Milestone achievement

The Ngoyaï Gbaayegie Group, within the catchment of palm oil processor Goldtree Sierra Leone Ltd, has achieved RSPO certification covering 4 983 Independent Smallholders who own a total land area of 8 667 ha in Sierra Leone.

Not only is it the first Independent Smallholders Group in Africa to be certified by RSPO but it is also the single largest certified Independent Smallholders group across all regions to date in terms of the number of smallholders.

Smallholders are estimated to account for an average of 70 percent of the palm oil output in Africa. With RSPO’s vision of making sustainable palm oil the norm and the organization’s mantra of inclusiveness, it is imperative that the African oil palm smallholders are included in the sustainable palm oil supply chain. Being the first certified smallholder group in Africa, the experiences and lessons learned from the certification process of the Ngoyaï Gbaayegie group will serve as a blueprint and inspiration for certifying other smallholder groups in the region, said Elikplim Dziwornu Agbitor, RSPO Head, Africa.

The Ngoyaï Gbaayegie Group has been certified to Milestone B, the ultimate phase in the Independent Smallholder stepwise certification approach. This was made possible through the RSPO Smallholder Support Fund (RSSF), with technical support from the relevant Departments/Units within the RSPO Secretariat.

We are grateful for the strong support from Goldtree Sierra Leone Ltd. that has been essential in bringing these Sierra Leone smallholders to achieve certification. Through the RSSF, it is truly a milestone to be able to see the first project in Africa that has achieved RSPO certification, said Aaina Karina, RSSF Representative.

Implementation on the ground was undertaken by Goldtree Sierra Leone Ltd who doubled as the Group Manager. Located in Daru, in the Kaliahun District, Sierra Leone, Goldtree operates a palm oil mill equipped with a palm kernel crushing plant.

The Daru mill has the capacity to process 20 tonnes of FFB per hour and the potential, with a capacity upgrade, to process 30 tonnes per hour.

The main products from the milling operation are crude palm oil (CPO), crude palm kernel oil (PKO), and palm kernel cake (PKC), and these are sold on the domestic market as well as exported to Europe and Asia.

Located in Daru, in the Kaliahun District, Sierra Leone, Goldtree Sierra Leone operates a palm oil mill with an annual production output of 3 000 tonnes of crude palm oil (photo courtesy Goldtree).

Positive impacts on smallholder challenges

The audit was conducted by SCS Global Services, with farmer training and master training programmes carried out by the RSPO Smallholder Trainer Academy (STA), which played a significant role in ensuring the certification of the smallholders’ group.

I want to thank Goldtree and RSPO very much, we are over happy, this is everybody’s certificate. We were able to place the primary structure in the different communities, it makes it easier to disseminate information and coordinate effectively for this project, expressed Eric Senesie, the Ngoyaï Gbaayegie Group organizing Secretary and spokesperson.

Prior to receiving training, smallholders faced various challenges in their plantations, including improper farm conditions, lack of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), and low yields due to lack of technical training.

I always had challenges in doing best management on my farm, I didn’t have knowledge of pruning, weeding. We never packed the branches of the fruits after pruning, so they used to be scattered all over the plantation. The plantation was not in proper condition so productivity was very low, shared smallholder Musa Morray.

RSPO’s technical support and training delivered by Goldtree have addressed many of these issues and translated them into improved agricultural practices and higher productivity.

Before the RSPO provided training and support, our lack of technical knowledge led to low yields, so we were taking loans to keep the farm operating. RSPO has impacted our lives in a positive way. Now, we have learned improved practices to increase our yields while also reducing costs so we won’t need to rely on loans anymore to operate, said smallholder Vandi Samai.

With the positive impacts, news of RSPO certification was welcomed warmly by several smallholders.

Before RSPO came, I did not have time to take care of the plantation or harvest fruit. Now with the technical training that RSPO has given us, we are now able to apply what we have learned in farm maintenance. We appreciate RSPO for the technical training, now the production rate of our plantation has increased rapidly, we are realizing higher production. We look forward to continuing to collaborate with RSPO and Goldtree, said MJ Kamara.

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