Stimulated by considerably higher palm oil prices, oil palm growers have increased production in recent years in West and Central Africa. However, this increase has not been fully reflected in increased palm oil production due to low extraction rates derived from traditional manual processing methods still used by the vast majority of smallholder producers in the two regions.
Mechanized oil palm processing can provide improved extraction rates, however, the high capital and operating costs of many technologies mean that only oil palm production areas with the highest population densities and income levels are served. Meanwhile, other less costly technologies suffer from low extraction efficiencies and capacities. To address this void, Winrock International has utilized its expertise in oil palm processing, and its strengths in value chain facilitation and market development, to promote the development and dissemination of innovative technologies under two successive projects funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development — partnering with the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture and ACDI/VOCA, respectively.
For example, the innovative continuous-feed palm oil expeller, called the Freedom Mill in Liberia, pulps the fruit and extracts the oil in the same operation. The per-hour processing capacity of this expeller is eight times greater for the manual version and 20 times greater for the motorized expeller, compared to oil palm processed with the traditional manual method. The significantly higher extraction rate of 18 percent — when processing fruit from the hybrid tenera oil palm variety — increases oil production by more than 60 percent compared to the predominant traditional method, and 24 percent over other intermediate-scale mechanical methods.
To date, more than 2,500 continuous-feed palm oil expellers are estimated to have been sold by manufacturers in Cameroon, Benin and Liberia. In Liberia alone, each oil extraction enterprise using a Freedom Mill employs three workers and one owner, providing processing services to approximately 20 small oil palm producers. For the more than 500 expellers manufactured and sold in Liberia, roughly 2,000 jobs have been created and an estimated 10,000 small rural producers have increased oil production and reduced extraction times.
According to the Liberia project impact assessment, each unit increases annual palm oil production valued at an average of $16,000 — or approximately $56 million over the life of the expellers sold to date.