A group of Ghanaian farmers have become the very first Independent Smallholder Group to achieve RSPO certification in Ghana, and the second one in the Africa region.
This milestone was achieved by the Golden Star Oil Palm Farmers Association (GSOPFA), under the management of Golden Star Oil Palm Plantations Ltd. (GSOPP). Since employing sustainable agriculture practices that ultimately led to RSPO certification, the group has enjoyed increased yields of over 18 tonnes per hectare, or three times above the national average yield for smallholders. The higher yields have translated into increased incomes and improved livelihoods for the smallholders and their dependents, while also helping them protect their natural environment.
“We believe in the commitment to sustainability and hard work, and today our farmers are a living testimony to the RSPO Independent Smallholder Standard success story in Ghana,” said Peter Addai, Operations Manager of GSOPP. “This is also an assurance and commitment to our stakeholders that at GSOPP, we produce oil palm sustainably, meeting both national and international standards.”
“It is an exciting and good feeling to know that GSOPFA is the first certified RSPO Independent Smallholder group in Ghana and second in Africa, and we are proud of ourselves and our Group Manager GSOPP, knowing very well the benefits it will bring us as farmers, such as increased yields, improved livelihoods and premium for the sale of our certified FFB,” said Stephen Mensah Kwofie, Chairman of GSOPFA.
“The results we have seen from GSOPFA due to the adoption of sustainable practices and their eventual certification is once again a significant boost to making the case for sustainability, first to smallholders and then to all stakeholders. In line with the RSPO’s Smallholder Strategy, we are committed to ensuring that sustainability translates into tangible impacts for the African smallholder,” said Edem Asimadu, RSPO Smallholder Manager (Africa).
A Golden Start
The farmers group traces its beginnings to the gold mining operative, Golden Star Resources (GSR). The pivot from mining to oil palm farming came about when GSR identified oil palm cultivation as a leading sustainable economic venture within its areas of operation. GSOPP was then established in 2006 as a non-profit, social enterprise agri-business, whose main objectives are to create wealth through employment generation, and economic development through sustainable agri-business.
In partnership with traditional authorities, affected farmers, and the agro-forestry industry, it promoted the development of commercially viable oil palm plantations among the GSR catchment communities, centred on the smallholder concept. Funded by Golden Star for every US$1 per ounce of gold produced, the social enterprise had received over US$9 million by the end of 2021.
Since its foundation, Golden Star has received several ESG accolades, including “Best Corporate Social Investment” at the Ghana Mining Industry Awards in 2018, and the 2018 Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada (PDAC) Award for Environmental and Social Responsibility.
Uplifting Smallholder Livelihoods
Introducing sustainable agricultural practices has helped GSOPP achieve its goals. Apart from increased, above average yields, it has contributed to the socioeconomic development of the community by creating over 500 direct employment jobs in the communities surrounding the smallholder plantations and improving the livelihoods of the workers and their families.
Stephen Mensah Kwofie, GSOPFA Chairman, shared, “As a retired teacher, my second job is farming and I have benefited and experienced some significant improvement in my life and the lives of my family as a result of my oil palm farm. Coming together as farmers has really helped us make a lot of progress in our farms. During the certification process I learnt lots of things that were new to me, such as standard operating procedures for all field activities. Protecting the environment is our key responsibility as farmers, and using best management practices increases our yields which means we are getting more money for our hard work. I also realised that oil palm is a serious business now and not just any traditional crop farming like our fathers used to practice, because now we must cultivate it in a sustainable way.
“As an old lady I am not able to visit my farm as regularly as I used to,” said Mary Bortey, GSOPFA Vice Chairman. “But with the help of my group GSOPFA, my farm is being well taken care of and my money keeps going up. The trainings we have had for the certification process have been an eye opener for me and my fellow farmers – now I can tell when I visit my farm if best management practices like interline, circle and path weeding, pruning and good harvesting are being done, and I’m even able to show workers how to do certain field activities. Though this process has not been easy for us, we are happy that our commitment to be a part of RSPO has paid off as the first certified independent smallholder group in Ghana.”
GSOPFA’s achievement for Ghana reflects the growing significance of Africa as an emerging market for palm oil. Currently, the region accounts for about 5% of global palm oil output and at least 10% of global palm oil demand. Oil palm production in Africa is dominated by several hundred thousand smallholder farmers, who are estimated to account for an average of 70% of the total production area.