In March Prices of crude palm oil jumped by 33 percent due to the Ukrainian crisis, as sector players urged the government to initiate efforts to contain a further rise in cooking oil.
Palm oil is the main raw material needed in the production of cooking oil, the price rose to between US$1,760 (Sh200,534) per metric tonne and US$1980 (Sh225,522) as a result. This is coming at a time when already the prices had risen due to the effects of Covid-19 that saw the price of a 20-liter Jerrycan from Sh2,200 to Sh4,500 today the price has risen further to Sh5,100 for a 20-liter jerrican of cooking oil.
The price increase has had an upward ripple effect on the prices of other commodities that use oil as part of the raw materials.
This ought not to be the case considering that the same conditions for growing palm trees in Indonesia are found along the Kenyan coast. For instance, in order to grow palm trees you need; Warm climate in altitudes of below 1000 meters above sea level, High temperatures of between 22°Celsius and 27°Celsius, it also requires a well-distributed annual rainfall of about 1000 millimeters. In order to grow palm trees you also need loam soils, alluvial or peat soils which should be well-drained and slightly acidic with a pH of 5.5, Sunshine of 5.5 hours per day is also necessary for growing this important crop that has seen the household budget shoot through the roof.
Why Kenya is dependent on crude palm oil importation is what the Swahili say, “mwiba wa kujidunga” because we have the necessary climatic conditions necessary to grow palm trees along the Kenyan coast. The climatic conditions of Kenya’s coastal region are: Average temperatures that exceed 27°Celsius, relative humidity is high all the year-round with an annual rainfall of 1,270 millimeters. The soils found on the Kenyan coast are; loam soils, alluvial or peat soils, these are the same conditions in which Coconut trees grow and thrive.
Kenya has the requisite trained personnel in agricultural research who can deliver the best type of palm tree species that can thrive in Kenya and provide the palm crude oil needed.
There are the graduates from Egerton University, Kenyatta University, the University of Nairobi, and Moi University who are currently jobless or have opted to go into other vocations they did not train. Diploma holders from the various agriculture-based training institutions are strewn all over the country, in this case, the Kenya Agriculture Research Institute in Matuga would have taken up the challenge and saved the country from importing crude palm oil which we can produce.
Scarcity is the mother of invention, so the adage goes, and yes the high poverty levels in the coastal region should be the springboard on which government policy could target the growing of palm oil trees on a commercial scale as a cash crop which could earn the local communities much-needed revenue and pull them out of destitution, poverty and dependence on the cash transfer program that is draining government coffers.
The palm oil value chain would provide ready jobs for the many jobless people in the country and more especially in the coastal region. This would be found in research on the development of commercially viable palm oil tree varieties, which would employ many young people, and this is how to engage the youth in agriculture. The manufacturing of palm oil and processing it into other oil products would see many of the engineering graduates find jobs in either assembling manufacturing plants or setting them up.
Growing palm trees will effectively contribute to climate change mitigation, as they would be the carbon sinks while ensuring sustainable use of land along the coastal region as well as dealing with halving poverty by the year 2030 as envisaged in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Kenya hopes to reduce carbon emissions by 32 percent, by the year 2030, this would help in this endeavor.
On the continental level, the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Program (CAADP) was established in 2003 under the Maputo Declaration. This had four main pillars; Sustainable Land and Water Management; Market Access; Food Supply and Hunger; and Agricultural Research. To date, Africa is still grappling in the dark on how to ensure sustainable land use. Most countries and more especially Kenya’s land use policy is not effective meaning that an area like the coastal region that can sustainably grow palm oil trees and coconut on a commercial scale is still lying idle with land speculators hoarding large tracts of land.
The 2014 Africa once again recommitted itself to CAADP with the Malabo Declaration adopted by African Union Heads of State and Government to provide effective leadership for the attainment of specific goals by the year 2025. they included ending hunger, tripling intra-African trade in agricultural goods and services, enhancing the resilience of livelihoods and production systems, and ensuring that agriculture contributes significantly to poverty reduction.
While this was a major step, it remains on paper, if we take the example of growing palm trees, based on the Malabo declaration we would have helped end hunger among the coastal communities by ensuring that they take advantage of the rising demand for vegetable oil, their pieces of land they would grow palm trees through trade in crude palm oil, these communities would have been part of the intra-African trade in agricultural commodities and help to enhance the resilience of the coastal communities.
Africa and Kenya are not short of policies that can put them on the growth trajectory, it is the lack of implementation of policies that continues to keep most Africans in poverty.
Judith Akolo is a Development Journalist working with the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation.