Palm oil production in North Kivu

Overview

For a long time, virtually all the palm oil consumed in the province of North Kivu was imported from an Oriental Province, some 1000 km away.

The per capita consumption of palm oil was only 5 kg/yr whereas in industrialised countries it amounted to 20 kg/yr.

North Kivu is situated in the east of the United Republic of Kivu. It is bordered by the Mitumba mountain range and the Riwenzori massif. Toward the west slopes in the Beni and Lubero territories, toward the central basin, elevations are low and ecological conditions are favourable for oil palm cultivation.

In colonial times, attempts were made to introduce this crop among smallholder growers in the form of peasant farming communities. However, this cultivation was unable to develop, mainly because of a lack of improved seeds. Those who sought to extend this agriculture tended to use 'run-of-the-mill' equipment, or birds and squirrels would disseminate the seeds in the bush. A few plants could thus be found in the natural environment.

This is the context in which the Kivu programme, a rural project financed by the European Development Fund within the framework of Zaire-EEC cooperation and in collaboration with villagers committees and some local associations, took the initiative to introduce an oil palm of the Tenera, wilt-resistant type, which has a very low annual incrementation.

Although this project also extended to the South Kivu province, in 1990, the Kivu Programme propagated 18,264 seedlings solely in North Kivu, which corresponded to 1,522 ha of land devoted to oil palm production, for a potential yield of 1956 tonnes of bunches.

This project had a number of objectives, including:

- Making available selected oil palm seedlings,
- Providing technical advice and inputs,
- More efficient extraction methods,
- Granting small agricultural loans after entry into production to enable plantations to acquire small extraction plants.

Unfortunately none of these objectives were accomplished because a political democratisation wave has been sweeping the Republic of Zaire since 1991. These activities were suddenly stopped because the Zaire-EEC Cooperation was broken off. Only the first season's nursery seedlings were distributed.
Note that the number of second season seedlings would also have amounted to 250,000, covering 1,733 ha.

The first plantations were established ten years ago. Oil production is significant as the plantations have now reached their optimal output.

Imports of palm oil from Oriental Province have been interrupted and this oil has come within reach of all the various social strata.
Furthermore, this palm oil from North Kivu crosses the West Uganda border coming from the Kasindi market and the Rwanda border from the city of Goma.

An important fact is that since 1991, at low elevations in the vicinity of Beni, the all-too-famous tracheomycosis of robusta coffee has appeared and ravaged all the plantations. As a result, oil palm cultivation has increased and it has become a cash crop for the people.

However, its profitability is still very low if all the tasks – from upkeep of the palm plantations, harvesting and transporting the bunches to oil extraction and clarification – are taken into account.

All this work is hard and difficult as it must be done by hand. In addition, the lack of farm inputs and pesticides makes the problem still worse. Even after fastidious harvesting, the palm tree producer loses a considerable amount of oil because his extraction system is still rudimentary.

This is because the oil is extracted in a perforated half-barrel, at the bottom of which a mixer is placed and operated by three or four people. The residuum is bound to be wasted in the extraction cakes. This substantially reduces the amount of crude oil. Added to this, tonnes of palm kernels are thrown away and ultimately form large, useless heaps.

Yet palm oil is of high quality and nutritional value.

Today's palm tree producers are up against many difficulties. Despite the effort they put into crude palm oil production, the price paid per litre is only US$ 0.4.

In the province, there is only one soap factory (Savonnerie Industrielle de Butembo), which still has a low consumption capacity.

It is essential for processing units to become established in the region, not only to alleviate the growers task but also to improve the quality of the palm oil, facilitate consumption of the product and improve the socio-economic conditions of the entire population.

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