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close this bookSustaining the Future: Economic, Social, and Environmental Change in Sub-Saharan Africa (UNU, 1996, 365 pages)
close this folderPart 5: Environment and development in Ghana
close this folderThe environmental impact and sustainability of plantations in Sub-Saharan Africa: Ghana's experiences with oil-palm plantations
View the document(introductory text...)
View the documentIntroduction
View the documentOverview of the plantation system in the Sub-Sahara
View the documentThe evolution of plantations in Ghana
View the documentThe positive impacts of the plantations
View the documentAdverse environmental impacts and sustainability
View the documentConclusion
View the documentReferences

The positive impacts of the plantations

Since about 1977, when they started, the three plantations, GOPDC, TOPP, and BOPP, have developed rapidly and contributed significantly towards the expansion of Ghana's oil-palm hectares from 18,000 to 103,000 between 1970 and 1990 (Gyasi 1992a). This growth of 24 per cent per annum has resulted in the re-emergence of the palm as a major commercial crop rivalling cocoa; has served as a basis for the fast-developing palm oil and other agro-industrial processing industries; and rendered the country more than self-sufficient in palm-oil production.

Fig. 18.1 The location of the GOPDC, TOPP, and BOPP plantations (Source: Gyasi 1992a)

During 1989, GOPDC, TOPP, and BOPP contributed about 20 per cent of the national palm hectares and 40 per cent of the palm-oil output, which traditionally had been dominated by small home-based producers. The three companies, which directly engaged over 4,500 people in their farming, milling, and other operations, were the largest single employers in their localities.

By 1989, the companies had organized over 2,700 farmers into outgrowers operating more than 6,700 oil-palm hectares with the companies' support. Additionally, GOPDC and TOPP were assisting 409 smallholders, peasants dislocated by the plantations, to grow 2,250 ha of palms on leased portions of the plantation concessions.

It appeared from my field study, including interviewing the companies' management, that the new job opportunities were registering a positive rural developmental impact in the plantation areas through:

(a) income, expenditure, and investment enhancement;
(b) reduction in migration out of the rural areas; and
(c) improvement in agricultural and other technical skills through experience acquired on the job and training programmes mounted by the companies on the plantations.

Employment and income improvements were consistently ranked by both the company management and the small farmers as the most important benefits accruing from the plantations.

Other benefits included improved medical services, transportation, and education provided by the companies. Rural development had been further enhanced by backward linkages with the areas adjoining the plantations, particularly through palm fruit purchases from the small farmers to feed the plantation mills, which, together with the large number of smaller village-based semi-mechanical mills and manual establishments, generate substantial amounts of income from the value gained by processing the palm fruit into oil. Other benefits had accrued by forward linkages through palm kernels, a by-product used by rural women for making kernel oil. Other beneficial forward linkages had been through the selling of palm oil to sustain the big import-substituting and increasingly export-oriented soap, margarine, deodorized cooking oil, vaseline, and related products manufactures located mostly in the urban centres.

Thus, to the extent that the three plantations had achieved their principal objective of boosting oil-palm and palm-oil production, and had generated highly significant ancillary socio-economic benefits, particularly within their rural setting, the plantation system could be said to be an appropriate strategy for development in Sub-Saharan Africa. A major factor underlying the significant positive socio-economic impact registered within the short time-span by the three Ghanaian plantations, as well as others in Kenya, Cameroon, and Nigeria, is their nuclear or nucleus estate method. This involves a core estate with an agro-processing mill together with other modern infrastructure. From the nucleus estate, advanced farming methods and other forms of assistance are extended to enable the peasants dislocated by the plantations to grow palms on leased portions of the estate, and to enable the "outgrowers" to grow the same crop on their own land within a specified radius. These smallholders and outgrowers are jointly called "contract farmers" because they are under a contractual obligation to sell the harvested palm fruit to the nuclear estate companies in exchange for their assistance. Other factors underlying the plantations' positive impact include:

· the large-scale production methods facilitated by mechanization, foreign-assisted capitalization, and modern corporate management;

· the plantations' higher oil extraction rate of 95-100 per cent, compared with 75-80 per cent for the medium-scale mechanical mills, and 50-60 per cent for the small-scale manual or semi-mechanical processors;

· easier access to land, credit, and other inputs facilitated by Ghana government support;

· worker incentives such as bonuses, free medical care, and subsidized housing on the estate;

· minimization of harvesting, transportation, and management costs by the provision of road networks inside the estates, and the location of outgrower farms near motorable roads;

· the systematic phasing of development (Halfani and Barker 1984; Gyasi 1987, 1990, 1991, 1992a).

These factors had allowed the GOPDC, TOPP, and BOPP to operate profitably, unlike the strictly state-controlled plantations, notably NOPL (National Oil Palms Ltd.) at Pretsea (fig. 18.1).