The village of Adagya, part of the Bonsaaso Millennium Village Project (MVP), is one of the highest oil palm producing communities in the MVP cluster and Opanyin Kofi Mensah, a 65-year-old farmer, produces more than any of his neighbors. Since he cultivates palm oil during the cocoa off-season, the two crops combined provide him with a year-round income, with which he supports 15 dependents and sends all of his children to school.
Mensah has been able to boost yields on his four-hectare palm oil plantation through good agronomic practices, new technology and sound farm management. He was helped along the way by MVP agriculture extension services while the project’s business development team worked to strengthen the value chain that links Mensah and his neighbors to their product markets.
In the Bonsaaso MVP, located in the Amansie West District of Ghana, the MVP agribusiness sector chose oil palm to be a “blockbuster” crop, recognizing its potential to lift farmers out of poverty with proper management and market linkages. A total of 792 households are now farming more than 1,200 hectares of oil palm, making it the second largest source of agricultural income in the cluster, after cocoa. Mensah has replaced his older and less productive tree varieties in his farm with early maturing, high yielding varieties, replanted one acre of his old farm, and established a new, two-acre farm of the hybrid oil palm seedlings. As a result, he has earned about GHS 2,510 (US$ 1,674) over two years selling his oil palm fresh fruit bunches, or FFBs.
The MVP site team set up an oil palm marketing program after seeing that many oil palm farms had been abandoned due to lack of market access for the produce. Distance and poor quality of roads in the cluster, particularly for the remote oil palm producing communities, were a major hindrance to the traders who purchase FFBs from farmers. In a few instances middlemen did come to purchase FFBs on credit, but rarely returned to pay farmers what they owed. For these reasons, despite the potential and tradition of palm fruit production in the region, oil palm cultivation in Bonsaaso had mostly been declining.
An oil palm value chain analysis confirmed that a breakdown in collection, transport and marketing systems was reducing incentives for farmers. An MVP-supported collection system was created in all oil palm producing communities in the cluster, with an MVP marketing team going out to collect FFBs from farmers. The team weighs the FFBs, records the quantity in each farmer’s passbook, and pays the money due to him or her. The FFBs are sold to the Juaben Oil Mills, a major oil palm processing factory about 130 km from the cluster.
This program has helped Opanyin Kofi Mensah become a model farmer in his community. With openness to technology and support from MVP agricultural extension facilitators, he was judged to be the best farmer during the 2010 Annual Farmers Day celebration in the Amansie West District. He serves as the Vice Chairman of the Oil Palm Producers’ cooperative of Adagya, and in this role, Mr. Mensah has been instrumental in the cooperative’s formation and development.
To develop blockbuster crops, the agribusiness team has focused on strengthening farming cooperatives. These associations are essential for both sustainable community ownership of the agribusiness program as well as for increased access to finance and fair market prices. The ultimate goal of the Palm Oil Cooperative is to take over the FFB collection, transportation and marketing program and to serve as a resource for other oil palm producers.
In January 2012, MVP helped the cooperative begin the government registration process. Once this process is complete farmers will have the organization, access, and power to leverage their production into improved farms and higher incomes. Through the cooperative, the progress that Mr. Mensah has made at his farm can be replicated, and the lessons he has learned can spread throughout the community.