How local energy-efficient technology is transforming artisanal and small-scale palm oil processing, bringing relieve to women palm oil producers in Ghana.
The green landscape, mostly characterized by oil palm plantation, is a beautiful, calming, and refreshing sight to behold when entering parts of the Eastern Region of Ghana. The region is one of the most suitable areas for oil palm cultivation. Ghana is noted to be the third major palm oil producing country in Africa, and the sector plays an important role in rural livelihoods and local economic development.
Artisanal and small-scale palm oil producers occupy a greater share of Ghana’s palm oil processing industry, producing 60–80% of the country’s palm oil. However, the processing systems used by the palm oil producers are mainly the traditional metal cooking pots and steel tanks. These are loaded with the palm nuts and set on the traditional cooking stove using an open fire, with excessive smoke, polluting the environment. The pollution that emits from most of the artisanal and small-scale palm milling and oil production centers also come from wastewater generated in palm processing. The common waste management practices include burning of solid wastes and discharge of untreated liquid into the environment. These poor waste management practices are further affecting the environment, climate, and human health.
Enduring Pollution for Decades
Ruth Ofosuhemaa has been in the artisanal palm oil production business for 20 years. She works as a leader of Joe Farms and Processing Enterprise, where she supervises 40 palm oil producers comprising 30 women and 10 young men. She narrates the hazards of their business.
“Our biggest problem here is the smoke. This enters our eyes and most of us have developed red and itchy eyes. We often get cough and sick due to how bad the smoke is”, noted Ruth in Achiase, a district capital in the Eastern Region of Ghana.
The conditions under which most of these artisanal and small-scale palm oil producers work, is a challenging one. Clouded in smoke, it was difficult to see the faces of Ruth and her colleagues at work. They basically combine manual methods with rudimentary tools and use a variety of low-efficient machines in producing the palm oil for soap making and for consumption.
“We work all day, and the smoke is unbearable. We normally close late but have to wake up around 12 midnight to continue working because the machines are few and not fast. So, if you don’t wake up early, you will not be able to process your palm nut”, added Madam Adzara in Damang, located in the Kwaebibirem Municipal District of the Eastern Region of Ghana.
The smoke at these centers, as being described by Ruth and Adzara, emanates from the fuel used for heating. The women rely heavily on car tyres, fibre, bamboo, and firewood as sources of energy for producing the palm oil. These produce pollutants including smoke and so much heat, which impact the environment and human health adversely.
“The artisanal palm oil processers are producing more than half of the country’s palm oil but the oil is mostly of low quality due the traditional processing method. This is forcing the refineries to still be importing a lot of palm oil for various use”, noted Mac Makafui Amedzi, Mill Engineer at Solidaridad West Africa.
As noted by Makafui, though Ghana’s palm oil production is said to have increased over the decades, the country is a net importer of palm oil. In 2021, the value of palm oil imported by Ghana was $289million as against an export value of $78.1million. This calls for urgent attention to address the challenges in the sector.
Local Technology to the Rescue
Recognizing the needs and gaps, under its Nationally Determined Contributions Support Programme (Deep Dive), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), in partnership with the Ministry of Environment, Science, Technology and Innovation (MESTI), and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), have supported 10 low value grants that is improving energy efficiency and waste management in palm oil processing sites in 11 communities in the Eastern Region of Ghana.
“We were using about 2 weeks to process the palm oil. But now, with these new machines, we spend only about 5 hours to complete the process. There is no more smoke, and the environment we are working now is very hygienic”, elated Dorothy Ankapong in Bamanase in the Denkyembour District of the Eastern Region stated.
Through the project, 800 beneficiaries with more than half being women, now have access to improved energy efficient locally produced machinery including boilers, conveners, ovens, clarifiers, expellers, steamers, sustainable waste management technologies and boreholes for easy access to water.
“We appreciate the new machines. First, we used to spend a whole day taking the fresh palm nuts from the bunch which is very stressful but now, with the machines, we are using about 20-30 minutes”, expressed Dora Awuku, Women’s leader at Tweapease No.2 Palm Oil Processing Center in the Birim North District, Eastern Region.
Technology has a critical role to play in mitigating climate change. The introduction of the locally manufactured technologies is providing innovative solutions to alleviate the decades of discomfort of Dorothy, Dora and the hundreds of women and young men benefiting from the intervention. This is not only impacting their health but also reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and thus protecting the planet.
“I am a Mechanical Engineer graduate of the Accra Technical University and always had the desire to modernize traditional ways of processing agriculture produce. I built these palm oil milling machines from scratch, mostly using local raw materials. I also work with local artisans and training them to ensure proper maintenance of the machines”, proudly stated Joshua Oluwadare, Engineer in charge of the new factory at the Joe Farms and Processing Enterprise.
For the palm oil processors, access to new technologies means increased production, stress-free processing, less processing time, less energy use, no more smoke, hygienic working environment, and more livelihood opportunities.
“I used to spend about 6000 Ghana cedis on diesel per month to run the old machines during peak seasons but now, am spending about Ghc1,500 with the electricity. What is fascinating is that I was producing only about 4 tons of oil daily but now, am doing 20 tons because I now have 120 women processors instead of the 30 processors I used to have. More so, the 4 tons sack was giving us 30 of the 25 liter gallons but now we get 45 gallons”, stated Appiah Ampofo, Owner of Ampofo A. Oil Mills & Trading in Asuom, one of the new milling centers supported under the project at Asuom in Kwaebibirem Municipality, Eastern Region.
Capitalizing Private Capital
Investment is needed to increase climate resilience and lessen the negative impacts of climate change on the environment. To unlock investment to manage the risks associated with climate change, UNDP has put greater engagement with the private sector at the heart of its climate initiatives. This is being achieved by identifying pipeline of projects that can draw private investment to blend with public finance to ensure that key economic sectors grow in a resilient manner.
“I own 310 acres of oil palm plantation and I am only providing the center for the women to process their palm nuts. I charge 5% of the liters of oil produced for running the center. The new factory is good, and I have personally so far invested over 1.6million Ghana cedis on various items including land preparation, structure, wiring, electricity transformer and electricity connectivity. This is to complement the UNDP fund for us to get a standard factory”, noted Mr.
Yaw Awusi Antwi, Owner of Joe Farms and Processing Enterprise.
The comfort being enjoyed by women like Dorothy, Dora and their peers is a good example of the transformation that can be realized in catalyzing private sector capital towards sustainable development.
“The machines are helping us a lot.Our only challenge is to get three additional steamers to meet the market demand from the refineries which we are currently not able to meet. I could have purchased these steamers myself, but I have so far invested close to 70,000 Ghana cedis in the new factory, and we are grateful for the financial support from the project, which made everything possible”, Appiah, Owner of Ampofo A. Oil Mills & Trading added.
The roles played by the different actors involved in the project - Government, private sector, the communities and the implementing NGOs like Solidaridad West Africa, Organization for Livelihood Empowerment Services (OLIVES), Plan for Change Ghana, and Artisanal Palm Oil Millers and Outgrowers Association of Ghana, attest to the power of multistakeholder partnerships. This collaboration has improved energy efficiency, public health, and a safe environment for people and planet.
By scaling up solutions that work, the artisanal and small-scale palm oil producing women and men now have the power to transform their carbon-intensive footprints to one that’s greener, cleaner, and more sustainable. Public-private partnerships passed the test, calling for more private engagements to unlock investments in climate technologies and manage the risks associated with climate change towards a better, cleaner, and safer future for all.