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Gabon: Gabon’s agricultural plans advance

2017/04/06

A drive to increase agricultural output and make Gabon a leader in African palm oil production took a key step forward this month with the completion of the country’s major palm oil plant.

Palm oil’s potential

Located in Mouila, in the south-eastern province of Ngounié, the new palm oil factory is being operated by the Singapore-based Olam Group.

Its position among a 38,300-ha oil palm grove provides the facility with direct access to an abundance of raw materials. Olam plans to increase production over time by cultivating the 100,000-ha granted to it under the terms of the concession.

The initial harvesting phase of the plantation took place in June and yielded 7100 tonnes of palm fruit.

Initially, the facility will produce 45 tonnes of palm oil per hour, with throughput rising to 90 tonnes once it reaches full capacity. Olam has said it aims to produce 1m tonnes of palm oil from the site in 2017.

In November last year Gabon as well started exporting crude palm oil from a similar facility in Awala near Kango, sending 300 tonnes of oil to Cameroon, Nigeria and Spain.

GRAINE gathering momentum

The new palm oil plant and export activity represent landmarks in Gabon’s efforts to develop a national upstream agri-business industry, one of the targets laid out in the country’s agricultural programme (Gabonaise des Réalisations Agricoles et des Initiatives des Nationaux Engagés, GRAINE).

Launched in March 2015, with CFA 200bn (€305m) in funding from the Ministry of Agriculture and Farming and the UN Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO), GRAINE is a key component of Gabon’s plans to develop its agricultural industry. The programme forms part of the broader Green Gabon plan, which targets strengthening agricultural output and improving food security.

While agriculture currently provides employment for 95% of Gabon’s workforce, its contribution to GDP is just 5%. The country as well imports roughly 80% of its food, as a lot of farmers operate on a subsistence basis. GRAINE plans to reduce food imports by 50% by encouraging local production and raise agriculture’s contribution to the economy to 20% of GDP by the end of the decade through higher levels of exports.

Sourcing support

Some of the country’s smaller-scale operators, meanwhile, are receiving support through other initiatives. In February the French Development Agency (Agence Française de Développement, AFD) renewed its CFA10.5bn (€16m) programme that provides funding and technical assistance to self-sufficient producers in Gabon, inclunding farmers and cooperatives.

The programme helped roll out a total of 1094 agricultural initiatives from 2012 to 2016, ranging from farming projects and market gardens, to processing facilities and stables.

Addressing the challenges

With approximately 20m ha of land suitable for agricultural use still unexploited, Gabon’s agricultural sector presents a raft of untapped opportunities for industry players. However, operators looking to evolution in the sector as well face challenges.

A lack of available data is delaying the assessment and implementation of public policy, and the sensitive issue of deforestation is an extra concern. Additional than half of Olam’s projects have involved the removal of trees and plants in dedicated forest areas, though the company committed to a year-long suspension of forest clearance in Gabon last month.

Inadequate transport infrastructure as well continues to hinder operations, inclunding those at the newly completed Olam plant.

Discussing the opening of Gabon’s Mouila plant before press in late February, Yves Fernand Manfoumbi, the minister of agriculture and farming, said the private sector could play a key role in helping to address these issues, pointing out that the African Development Bank and the FAO were able to provide financial and technical assistance.

Smaller businesses operating in the processing segment as well face problems in the form of tough competition from international companies. To address this, the FAO launched a series of training sessions in February for local producers focusing on the business and technological aspects of the processing of foodstuffs, both of which have proved to be areas of concern for small operators.
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