Recently, Ivory Coast announced a plan to triple its palm oil production without endangering more indigenous forests, but the plan “may not seem realistic” due to low harvests and declining lands, according to a 2019 article by Radio France Internationale (RFI).
“The old model is no longer sustainable,” said Siaka Coulibaly, representative of the Ivorian Ministry of Agriculture. “We can no longer produce widely as before, we must ensure that existing plantations produce more with less area, even if it means reclaiming old vacant land,” Coulibaly told RFI.
Although the trade in refined palm oil is global, the red palm tree is native to West African forests. In this region, which includes Côte d'Ivoire, many people still use unrefined oil, which is more nutritious, in Ivorian cuisine as well as their ancestors.
With manual presses or a simple mortar and pestle, the Ivorians hit the oily scarlet fruit, then use the bright red oil for cooking.
At home, women extract the juices and oil to make an abundant and fruity sauce called graine willow (grain of sauce). This oily sauce preserves nutritious juices, antioxidants and fruit oils intact for food.
Ivory Coast ranks eleventh in the world of refined palm oil production, according to Indexmundi. It is the second largest producer among African countries, behind Nigeria. About 75% of Ivory Coast oil is consumed within the country – the rest is sold to neighboring countries, according to RFI. Between the demand for red palm fruit and trade, the palm oil industry employs almost 10% of the country's population.
On a trip to Ivory Coast, Jeslyn Lemke of Global Voices talked with women who sell red palm oil in the markets and with people who use red palm oil in the markets and with people who use the oil to make soap, as Watch in this short video:
(embed) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tw0dXF2sDXg (/ embed)
In busy markets, women often sell red palm oil at outdoor stalls in recycled plastic bottles. Lemke spoke with the Ivorian seller Koffe Pauline and her family, sellers of red palm oil and fresh fruits and vegetables such as cassava, pineapple and papaya root at the Faya market in Abidjan.
Pauline, like other sellers in the market, sells oil for the equivalent of one or two US dollars, depending on the quantity. Unlike the more refined golden palm oil, red palm oil has a strong tomato-like taste and is rich in vitamin B and carotenoids, the same orange substance found in salmon and carrots.
Lemke also visited an old soap manufacturing facility located outside Divo, Ivory Coast, which produces kaba-kuru – soap made from red palm oil and sometimes cocoa butter. Ivorians use the bright yellow balls of abundant soap to wash clothes and are also sold in neighboring countries of Burkina Faso and Nigeria as well.
Here, women measure amounts of liquid potassium hydroxide and red palm oil. Workers mix the two liquids and red palm oil, which are saponified in a thicker yellow paste. The paste turns into balls while still liquid and then stacked to dry with another soap. Hard soap is strong enough to wash clothes – but too strong to be used on the skin.
Ironically, Côte d'Ivoire is going through a shortage of palm oil and imports a lot of oil from Asian countries, which lead the world production of palm oil.
The GroIntelligence agricultural platform describes the global palm oil industry as a “tug of war” of global proportions:
On the one hand, the practical benefits offered by palm oil have become a ubiquitous part of the lives of consumers; and the industry has helped pull many out of poverty. On the other hand, palm oil producers, in many cases, are leaving environmental devastation in their wake.
On the one hand, the practical benefits offered by palm oil have become a ubiquitous part of consumers' lives, and the industry has helped many out of poverty. On the other hand, in many cases, producers leave environmental devastation in their wake.
However, in Ivory Coast the use of unrefined red palm oil in the Ivorian cuisine and in the production of kaba-kuru soup continues to flourish.