Industrial production of palm oil is not new to Cameroon. The first commercial plantations were established in 1907 under the German colonial administration in the coastal plains, around Mt. Cameroon and Edea.
The crop was further developed under the Franco-British regime until 1960 when it had reached an estimated production of 42,500 tons. After Independence, the government of Cameroon took over the production of palm oil with the creation of public sector companies like Société des Palmeraies (which later became SOCAPALM), PAMOL and CDC. According to the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MINADER), Cameroon produced 230,000 tons of crude palm oil in 2010, across an estate of approximately 190,000 hectare.
Production of palm oil in Cameroon is distributed across three plantation types or scales that is Agro-industrial plantations (58,860 ha producing 120,000 tons); supervised smallholder plantations (35,000 ha producing 30,000 tons), and independent smallholdings (occupying an estimated 100,000 ha producing approximately 80,000 tons of palm oil4).
The Government of Cameroon’s Rural Sector Development Plan proposes an increase in palm oil production to 300,000 tons in 2015 and 450,000 tons in 2020. This can be achieved primarily through increasing oil production yields, as well as potentially increasing the area under oil palm production and by increasing oil extraction rates. The Government’s plan is focused mainly on the area under production targets and not on yields or any environmental or biodiversity impacts.
Currently, agro-industrial palm oil plantations and the industrial transformation of palm oil in Cameroon are carried out by five large companies: The French group Bolloré has three companies including – SOCAPALM (28,027 ha), SAFACAM (4,870 ha) and the Swiss Farm (3,793 ha); the other two companies belong to the State: CDC (12,670 ha) and PAMOL (9,500 ha).
Industrial palm oil production is an integral element in the government’s growth, employment and poverty reduction policies. The 1994 New Agricultural Policy of MINADER states that there is a need for increased investment in agro-industry through privatization of existing public institutions and the creation of new agro-industrial plantations, including oil palm. Therefore, the industrial production of palm oil is a national priority initially to meet domestic demand and secondly, for export.
Current expansion of palm oil in Cameroon Due to increased global demand for palm oil and suitable conditions for oil palm development, Cameroon has witnessed a sharp rise in investor enquiries seeking land to plant oil palms since 2009. It is believed that at least 6 companies are currently trying to secure over 1 million hectare of land for the production of palm oil in the southern forested zone.