Palm oil holds a significant place in the African region.  Oil palm is indigenous to Africa — its use as a basic food crop has been vital to the inhabitants of the equatorial regions in Africa as far back as 3000 BC in Egypt. Presently, the African region is estimated to have more than 4 million hectares of oil palm production area across over 22 countries. As an emerging market for palm oil, the region accounts for approximately 5% of global palm oil output, and at least 10% of the global palm oil demand. 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 the region is dominated by several hundred thousand smallholder farmers, with typically 1-2 hectare holdings, who are estimated to account for an average of 70% 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 (average 2-4 tonnes of FFB per hectare). Commercial estates account for less than 30% of production area which are better managed and higher yielding (average of 16-18 tonnes of FFB per hectare). 

Milestone achievement
Despite these challenges, RSPO is proud to announce a milestone achievement — the first Independent Smallholders Group in Africa has been certified by RSPO. 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 8667 hectares. This is the  single largest certified Independent Smallholders group across all regions to date in  terms of the number of smallholders. 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. Implementation on the ground was undertaken by Goldtree Sierra Leone Ltd. who doubled as the Group Manager. 

"Smallholders are estimated to account for an average of 70% of the palm oil output in Africa,” said Elikplim Dziwornu Agbitor, RSPO Head, Africa. “With RSPO’s vision of making sustainable palm oil the norm, and the organisation’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 learnt from the certification process of the Ngoyaï Gbaayegie group will serve as a blueprint and inspiration for certifying other smallholder groups in the region."  

“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,” said Aaina Karina, RSSF Representative.  “Through the RSSF, it is truly a milestone to be able to see the first project in Africa that has achieved RSPO certification.”

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.  

Smallholders on challenges and positive impacts 
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. 

MJ Kamara, a farmer from the Ngoyaï Gbaayegie Group, shared, “Before RSPO came, I did not have time to take care of the plantation or harvest fruit. Now with the technical training RSPO has given us, we are now able to apply what we have learnt in farm maintenance.” 

“I always had challenges in doing best management in my farm, I didn’t have knowledge on pruning, weeding,” shared smallholder Musa Morray. “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.”

Smallholder Vandi Samai added, “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 learnt improved practices to increase our yields while also reducing costs so we won’t need to rely on loans anymore to operate.” 

RSPO’s technical support and training delivered by Goldtree have addressed many of these issues and translated into improved agricultural practices and higher productivity. With the positive impacts, news of RSPO certification was welcomed warmly  by several smallholders. 

“We appreciate RSPO for the technical training, now the production rate of our plantation has increased rapidly, we are realising higher production. We look forward to continuing to collaborate with RSPO and Goldtree,” said Kamara.

“I want to thank Goldtree and RSPO very much, we are over happy, this is everybody’s certificate,” expressed Eric Senesie, the Ngoyaï Gbaayegie Group organising Secretary and spokesperson. “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.”

Steven Lansana, General Secretary of the Ngoyaï Gbaayegie Group, said “I want to express the feeling of all the farmers, we are very excited over the certificate, even our farms are in good order. Now we can be proud of our yield, that makes us very glad to have succeeded.”

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