Monday, 17 December 2012

Oil Palms and palm oil

Part of the ASA Program is to share of my experience in the 3rd world, from the Global South's point of view, to the people or community around me. I can't do something big, like change the world (that's one of the slogans of ASA ), or change people's perspectives, or talk about moral issues like Europe's development aids in Africa or stuff like that.  And here it came the chance for me to share my intern experience to my peers, students from the master program of Sustainable Resource Management. Basically, during the year we organize activities that bring us the SRMies together, like movie nights, dancing club and internship sharing evenings. 

And last Thursday I was speaking to some 1st semester peers about the ASA, and just gave a general overview of what I had done in Cameroon. It turned out that it's not that easy to explain the ASA program and the whole learning cycle of 3 seminars, one overseas project in a host country(in Africa, Latin America, South Asia or Eastern Europe). When I showed the picture of Nguti, the village where I stayed and worked in Cameroon. In the picture it shows some simple wooden cottages and grocery stores on the main junction, and it's the town centre. People got interested and asked "how could you survive there for 3 months?" "Is this village electrified?" “You took cold water shower for 3 months?" "None anit-Malaria tablets and you didn't get Malaria at all? (Yes!). And I was showing pictures of activities we had done there, like going to cocoa farms, palm oil farms, meeting with farmer's groups and the Nguti council village chiefs, wedding and funerals. There are just some highlights, and of course there were moments of downs and uncertainties. Like cultural adjustments, different values judgment, how did I learn to get along with the "TIA"(this is Africa) attitude and get easy with life. One girl asked a question, which I can't give a satisfactory answer at all. She was wondering as a foreigner (at least the locals classified me as White man, a term that I feel I was discriminated against...) in Cameroon, were there moments people just ask me for money or help, because they assume I can offer?  It was in this context that i came across the moments I can't correctly identify common greed or real in need in others. And she asked, "Do you think you have changed somehow after the trip?" umm..I can say my vision might be changed, the way I perceive the world, black and white, the power relation, rich and poor. 

Now when I see people here in Germany in this civilized materialistic world, great consumption (see the long queues in shops people rush to buy unnecessary stuff for x'mas), I can no longer take it anymore. I have a bad feeling when seeing people carry plastic shopping bags on both hands. And when I look back, people in Africa (or in Cameroon to be more correct) live a more happy life because they demand less, and I appreciate they can get food out of their farmlands, bananas, pepper, potatoes, tomatoes, all are self-subsistence. They are s creative and make things out of raw materials manually, like brooms from palm tree's leaves. The other day I was watching a video made by students from a Germany University. It shows their experimental trial run of live a "sustainable life" for one whole month. Take cold shower; only buy regionally produced food without package at all; create their own solar cooking device and fry eggs on it; light up candles for study light at night; make DIY soap and grow their own gardening plants. This is the kind of life people in rural communities in Africa are doing. So, can I say they live a more sustainable life then us, people who buy organic food just believe it's good for the land the environment, without checking it's from the other side of the world that carries great CO2 footprint? At least kids there know where does the water come from, not saying it's from the tap. But it's a pity that my stay there was relatively short, and my work was only in planning level, but not really implemented. I wish I could go back there one day, to this peaceful land and meet again nice people out there, maybe work on a development project to help the small holder farmers. 



local way of pressing oil out of the palm nuts
I think it's good to do this sharing events with my study peers. Today we had another movie night gathering, and we showed a documentary about land-grabbing issue which is happening in West Africa, and with a special case study in SW Cameroon. 

We gave a short introduction presentation on palm oil plantation in the country, and I showed a couple of pictures to explain how is palm oil produced in a traditional manual way, and it exits in our daily food like crackers vegetable oil we eat, soaps or cosmetics these by-products of palm oil that we use. 

This land grab issue effects lives and livelihood of so many small farmers in these developing countries, and since 2001, 227 mil ha of land has been sold or leased worldwide to international investors or intensive plantation companies. Especially in Africa, agricultural land of small farmers and their land rights are neglected, or sold in ridiculously low price. I just learned about the case in Cameroon, there is this US company Herakles Farm they want to invest and grab 70,000 ha land in the forested protected area in the country, which means more than thousands of farmers will lose their land for planting crops to sustain their families. It's sad, but if the Cameroonian government is in line with this US company, which happens in most cases of land grab issues, what can the local farmers do? Even their own country can't protect their land right and secure its people's food production. 
We had some nice reflections and discussion after the movie session, it's so nice that we talked about some push and pull factors of this land grab phenomenon in developing countries, and does industrial plantation really brings local economic development to the people. What I like about SRMies is that, people are creative and critical. Some of us even think about stop buying crackers or consume less palm oil by-products to confront the global trend of soaring palm oil consumption. And some gave other very constructive ideas or opinions.
freshly harvested palm nuts

 women are selecting the females seeds from the male ones, which are 
for propagation of palm trees for palm oil production





presentation in PDF:

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