Palm Oil May Drive Congo’s Economic Growth
The largest fruit crop in the world today is not oranges, pineapple or apples. It’s palm kernels with production worldwide about double the tonnage of the second leading fruit crop. While Palmolive soap may be the best known palm oil product in our households, most of the average American’s consumption of palm oil is in the form of margarine and shortening these days.
In the 1960’s the second largest producer of palm oil in the word was the Democratic Republic of Congo. Today, the Congo’s production of palm oil doesn’t even rank in the top ten worldwide. From the mid 1970’s corporate owned plantations were looted by cohorts of the Mobutu regime and production continued to decline until recent years. An Indian company took over the Unilever (Palmolive soap) processing plants in Congo and now buys from villagers “who bring us oil after traveling weeks from deep in the bush” according to the company’s Indian chief executive.
Counting on leading the revival of the Congo palm oil industry is a Chinese company with plans to cultivate 1 million hectares (2.5 million acres) of palm trees in Equateur, Bandundu and West Kasai provinces. But the Chinese company’s aim is not to market the palm oil for food products: 90 % will go directly for biodiesel replacing petroleum in Congo and elsewhere.
With Africa’s largest expanse of non forest arable land, only 4.7 % of which is now u nder cultivation, Congo’s palm oil and general agricultural potential is tremendous. An agency of the European Union devoted to alternative energy projects in Africa cites
Congo’s potential to supply all of Central Africa with food, fuel and fiber and to supply one tenth of the world’s bioenergy demand in 2030 “without endangering the rain forests or the food security of its people”.