Strengths and weaknesses of the smallholder oil palm sector in Cameroon

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The present study is an evaluation of the current strengths and weaknesses of the oil palm smallholder sector in Cameroon, or more precisely of the non-industrial sector, as some holdings owned by elites can reach hundreds of hectares. A randomized sample of oil palm producers was chosen after categorization into elites, migrants, natives and company workers (past and present) in four palm oil production basins in the Southern part of the country. 176 semi-structured questionnaires were administered. The production basins included: Eseka, Dibombari, Muyuka, and Lobe. Results from the study revealed that elites owned larger average areas (41.3 ha) than the other categories of oil palm producers. All categories recorded low average plantation yields, ranging from 7 to 8.4 t FFB/ha/year (with minimum yields of 3 t FFB/ha). Though the elites showed better bargaining power and higher income, all categories of producers faced similar problems such as the high cost of inputs with no governmental subsidies, the difficulty in accessing loans with low interest rates and the use of rudimentary working tools. Despite such weaknesses, the sector also demonstrates some strengths such as the ability to impose little threat to the primary forest when compared to agro-industrial plantations, the availability of a domestic and sub-regional market for red palm oil, the availability of artisanal mills with low extraction rates although able to generate more income for the producers. There is a need for governmental policies that will strengthen partnership between small and medium oil palm producers and agroindustries as it was the case during the Fonader period, in order to converge with the poverty reduction strategy intiated by the government of Cameroon.

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