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Increase without spatial extension: productivity in small-scale palm oil production in Africa—the case of Kigoma, Tanzania

Uckert, Götz, Hoffmann, Harry, Graef, Frieder, Grundmann, Philipp, Sieber, Stefan
Regional environmental change 2015 v.15 no.7 pp. 1229-1241
Elaeis guineensis, agroforestry, case studies, climate, deforestation, environmental impact, farmers, farms, food security, fuelwood, household surveys, households, hybrids, income, interviews, land use change, mixed cropping, palm oils, plant density, plantations, planting, processing technology, small-scale farming, stakeholders, subsistence farming, supply chain, trees, varieties, vegetable oil, weed control, Tanzania
The global demand for palm oil has increased sharply in the past and is expected to double over the coming decades. Land use changes resulting from the concomitant expansion of oil palm cultivation have caused further deforestation, which in turn has had a severely negative impact on the environment and climate. Sustainable intensification strategies are therefore required to meet the growing demand for palm oil while simultaneously improving farm household incomes, increasing food security and self-sufficiency. Palm oil production in Africa and especially in Tanzania is dominated by small-scale subsistence farming systems that are characterised by low productivity and low yields, even in regions with the most suitable cultivation conditions. By conducting stakeholder interviews, focus-group discussions and a household survey, we analysed palm oil production in the Western Tanzanian Province of Kigoma in order to gain a more complete picture of oil palm farming in smallholder systems and to better understand how smallholders evaluate certain options for the intensification of palm oil production. We identified and evaluated locally existing best practices from the farmers’ perspective and identified factors which may have a positive impact on production levels. Our case study sites are characterised by large oil palm plantations that have been operating since colonial times. Also examined were farm plots with an average of 35.7 palm oil trees per acre. Palms are cultivated to produce edible vegetable oil and are used for firewood. The results indicate large differences between output levels that result from the agricultural management practice employed (e.g. using hybrid varieties, sub-optimal planting densities and low weeding or organic fertilising inputs). The processing technology used in the households examined was not conducive for changing the situation from low to high yields and productivity levels. A shift from subsistence to market-orientated production generates income opportunities for farmers and helps meet the ever-increasing demand for palm oil. Our results indicate that an improved small-scale palm oil production system, including agroforestry or mixed cropping and general intensification of plant maintenance, may increase yields without putting additional pressure on natural forests—a step towards ensuring palm oil is produced in a supply chain that avoids deforestation.