Assignment for Oxfam Novib
The people of the Manguredjipa region in North-Kivu call the professionalization of their palm oil industry a revolution. For decades they have made use of the numerous palm trees growing in the wild. But the exploitation and organization of their activities was amateurish. What began as a project of the Centre d’Animation pour la Culture et le Développement de Kirumba (CACUDEKI) to help the palm oil farmers to generate higher incomes grew to entail much more. Now the project involves the whole community and has potential to lift the region out of poverty.
Kyabusike Kisatu, a widow and palm oil farmer with 35 hectares of land, was approached by CACUDEKI in 2012. Her plantation serves as a test case for the professionalization of the palm oil industry that CACUDEKI envisions. A test case that now, three years later, can already be called a success and from which many other farmers in the area benefit.
Kyabusike says: "With the help of CACUDEKI I learned to think about the future of my business. I learned how to maintain the trees so the fruit grows better. And I got a loan to buy machines that take over much of the hard labour. Because of this the production increased and the quality of the palm oil is better. In two years I have to to pay off the machines and after that I can start making a profit.”
The trainings from CACUDEKI also help other plantations in the area to professionalize. François d'Asssise, CACUDEKIs coordinator, explains: "Initially, the farmers did not know better than palm trees growing in the wild. They were unaware of the fact that in order to produce palm oil in a sustainable manner, maintaining the trees is of the essence. Also when the tree is getting too old, it eventually harms the quality of the palm oil they produce. It is important to grow and plant new trees according to the latest techniques. Planning ahead and making the necessary investments is crucial because it takes up to five years before a tree has grown to the point one can harvest."
Until CACUDEKI intervened, the buyers from the city of Butembe determined the price of the palm oil. The price did not cover the costs and discouraged the farmers. CACUDEKI decided to assist them in the formation of cooperatives. These cooperatives would strengthen the farmers’ market position, putting them in charge of determining the price. But assisting the farmers in the formation of cooperatives involved more than just uniting them. "Most of them could not read or write or make simple calculations, let alone how to manage a cooperative. We therefore also started providing members with the proper training and education," says François d'Asssise.
Furthermore, many people were unaware of the additional use of the trees. The palm oil nuts for example were merely seen as a waste product and thus thrown away or burned. Whilst in fact, it can be used as a raw material for the production of soap. Through an awareness campaign the people were informed about this.
Masika Takia, director of a primary school in Byambwe, called the palm oil nut a miracle and explains the impact on the community: "When we heard that palm oil nuts are in fact not useless and worth money, we asked the parents to consent their children collecting them after school. When we have a fair amount in stock, we call CACUDEKI. They buy them per kilo and with the money we refurbish the school. So far, we already have been able to build a new roof and two new classrooms!"
The whole community benefits. “The parents are required to pay an annual school building contribution of CF 6000, - (€ 6, -) per child”, says Takia. ,,An amount not all parents can afford. The school sometimes is forced to send children home. Some parents only send some of their children to school. But this year, the amount of money we made with the palm oil nuts was more than sufficient to maintain the school. We did not need to ask the parents for the annual school building contribution!"