Cameroon’s palm-oil industry makes progress in smallholder inclusion

Industry stakeholders meet in workshop to debate models of inclusive development

Developing a business case for including Cameroon’s smallholders in oil-palm production and wider global supply chains was the underlying concern of the dialogue, support and commitment made at a recent SHARP workshop held in Limbe, Cameroon.

The workshop’s theme was: “Partnership between agro-industries and small palm-oil producers: what partnership models for Cameroon?”. It sought to create a platform for dialogue between stakeholders in the oil-palm sector and to collaboratively identify partnership models that suit the Cameroonian context and can facilitate sustainable and mutually beneficial working relationships between agro-industries and smallholders. To read the full workshop report, click here.

Cameroon is the fourth largest oil-palm producer in Africa, according to FAOSTAT. Growers include industrial plantations, outgrowers and independent smallholders. A 2012 report noted that Cameroon has attracted strong interest from developers in recent years, prompting the government to develop a national sustainable palm-oil strategy. There is public commitment to smallholder-inclusive development, but SHARP's baseline study for Cameroon in 2014 found a lack of trust between smallholders and agro-industry, relating to pricing, contracts and a lack of transparency.

To support dialogue, SHARP, in cooperation with WWF, brought together 30 participants from industry. There were participants from the government (Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, MINADER), the private-sector actors Cameroon Development Corporation (CDC) and SG SOC, and producer groups. Civil society was well represented by WWF, Rainforest Alliance, other NGOs active in the oil-palm sector,* and some traditional local chiefs. The research institutes IRAD and CIFOR were also represented.

Day 1: Government commitment -— Challenges ahead —- Effective models

It was reassuring to hear a clear commitment by the government of Cameroon

Opening comments by MINADER, WWF and SHARP focused on the need for concrete, and viable win-win partnerships between the industrial oil-palm producers, processors and smallholders in order to ensure sustainable production of palm oil in Cameroon. It was reassuring to hear a clear commitment by the government of Cameroon to reposition the industry through its oil-palm strategy, which promises to boost viable smallholder production and provide the enabling environment for transformational businesses to thrive. SHARP took the opportunity to highlight some of the tools that the programme is developing to assist the private sector in responsible partnerships with smallholders, such as the RSS framework and the unified HCV approach for smallholders.

The Central Africa Regional Programme Office of WWF (WWF CARPO) presented the outcome of a recent field mission on the Challenges and Way Forward for Building Win-Win Partnership between Agro-Industry and Smallholders in Cameroon. They highlighted the need for dialogue on multi-stakeholder approaches as a possible strategy to tackle the challenges associated with the palm-oil sector in Cameroon, such as how to rebuild trust between parties and foster collaboration on sustainable yield improvements.

The SHARP team presented five examples of successful collaboration and smallholder development from the palm-oil sector in Ghana. The cases highlighted key elements of effective partnerships:

  • Self-directed smallholder organizations (e.g. associations or cooperatives) to help farmers manage their relationship with agro-industry and access services;
  • Good contracts for the sale, purchase and payment of Fresh Fruit Bunches (FFB);
  • Supply chain and concessionary finance to support smallholder investment;
  • Access to support services, capacity-building, organizational development and/or inputs and services for smallholders;
  • Decision-making on land management that meets both the demands of agro-industry and the multiple needs of local communities;
  • Management of conservation values to meet the commitments of downstream supply chain actors on responsible sourcing.

The examples included a mill with no nucleus estate which is working with smallholders to guarantee sustainable supply; and a company that has set up structures for integrating smallholders in a certified supply chain.

The remainder of the first day was spent in dialogue about the elements of the cases, their pros and cons and the lessons that could be drawn to inform the dialogue on partnership development in Cameroon. It was encouraging to see and hear the constructive dialogue in the room between smallholders, government and private companies about the need to form this platform and the commitment to working together in designing partnership models that would benefit all stakeholders.

Day 2: Prototype partnerships -— Constructive feedback —- Calls for pilot testing

On the second day, participants formed working groups for designing a baseline for prototype partnership models. The groups consisted of representatives of a company, its neighbouring small producers and interested civil society partners and government facilitators.The openness, dialogue and communication among stakeholders was heartening. Some of the agro-industry companies even shared models they have been developing, for discussion and constructive criticism. This level of transparency and commitment was made possible by the collective effort and the emphasis that the outcomes of the working groups were not binding and that implementable agreements could not be reached in just two days. It was agreed that the prototypes would become the basis for further site-specific dialogue and agreement about a roadmap for pilot tests.

Some of the companies shared models they have been developing

Plenary discussions of the prototype models developed by the working groups followed. The results gave us the hope and belief that stakeholders appreciate the importance of having a platform for dialogue and negotiation about a shared vision for the industry in Cameroon.

The workshop concluded with calls for investment to test the models in different settings. It was hoped that the SHARP team and WWF will continue to provide this multi-stakeholder platform for sharing experiences and facilitating dialogue.

Outcomes and next steps

Key outcomes from the workshop include:

  • A clear interest from stakeholders in Cameroon to better understand: what partnerships to integrate smallholders are technically feasible in the context of the new oil-palm strategy; how to develop a solid business case for implementing such partnerships; and how the government will provide the necessary enabling environment for businesses and financial institutions.
  • A clear understanding of the roles and responsibilities required of actors in win-win partnerships;
  • Recognition that smallholders need to be well organized and to gather their efforts for better negotiation with companies;
  • Identification of elements and best practices from existing partnership models, which can inform the process of developing and/or improving localized and adaptable models for smallholder integration in Cameroon;
  • A common understanding among stakeholders about how to negotiate and develop win-win partnerships between private companies and smallholders;
  • Positive energy to continue engagement and dialogue that bring agro-industry and small producers to improve and test partnership models in their local environment.
  • Demand for model testing and for infrastructure for rapidly scaling up models to increase the capacity of smallholders in ways that contribute to yield increases and profits not only for farmers but also for all other actors in the value chain;
  • An identified need for WWF and SHARP to continue supporting stakeholders along the palm-oil supply chain to build strong relationships and develop smallholder schemes towards sustainable palm-oil production in Cameroon.

The challenge for the SHARP team is how to leverage additional resources to provide the demand-driven technical backstopping and assistance that each agro-industry and its cluster of smallholders may need to complete the development of the models, test them and improve them for validation and acceptance. This additional resource is required in the next three years to maintain the momentum and the intense interest shown by the stakeholders and to support the industry to do what has been long overdue in Cameroon – rebuilding trust and confidence, letting go of the past and moving forward with a common vision.


Top image: Entrance to industrial plantation on the road to Edea, Cameroon. Flore de Preneuf/PROFOR. Bottom image: Workshop participants debate potential partnerships.

* Including Environmental Governance Institute (EGI), Centre for Nursery Development and Eru Propagation (CENDEP) and Action for Local Initiatives and Sustainable Development.