Women peasants and palm oil producers pay a high price for cheap vegetable oil While harvesting the fruit of traditional oil palms has been the responsibility of men since the dawn of time, the processing of palm oil remains to this day the domain of women, especially rural peasant women. We find ourselves in Tchakla, a village in the district of Avrankou in Benin in an artisanal processing plant for the production of red palm oil. This activity dates back to the time of our ancestors. We are born and then we pass on the tradition. We learned especially from our mothers. We watched how they did it, and then we took over. This is our occupation. We typically buy the palm fruit from the market. The extraction process allows us to remove the palm kernel and many other products, and finally the red oil. We then sell the products and use the income to support our families. Today, the challenge we face is that palm fruit is becoming increasingly rare in the markets. The lands where traditional palms were found are being sold and the palms destroyed. As a result, the raw material is difficult to find. This activity of producing palm oil from traditional palms provides us with tremendous resources. I’ve invested in the wellbeing of my family. I contribute to a community fund, so part of my income goes to that. Thanks to these resources, we are able to sustain ourselves. In the process of producing palm oil from the traditional oil palm, the first thing we extract is a residue, which we use to make sponges that serve as kindling. Philomène Migan, member of the group JESUS KPEGO During this process we also remove the hulls of the palm kernels after having separated them. The palm oil, which we call red oil, is obtained after cooking the paste. It’s a delicate operation that consists of separating the oil from the water. The oil is then collected, cooled and bottled. After all this, the oil is transported to the market for sale. It would be a huge task to make a list of everything that can me made from traditional oil palm. For the production of red oil, we purchase the palm fruit at the market. Clotilde Adjokpalo, palm oil producer Sometimes the men aren’t available to help the women. Sometimes the oil would be of poor quality because, once it was boiled, too much time went by before it could be processed. But one day, fortune smiled on the women, when some artisans created a device to help us work the palm fruit. Later, a special press was also invented, and the drudgery of this activity was significantly reduced. You know, this activity allows women to use the income to help our husbands with household expenses, to buy food for the children and pay for their schooling if you don’t do it, you might be seen negatively by your husband and your children. Today, the lands are being sold, and the area devoted to oil palms is decreasing. If these changes happen, what will become of the women who depend on red palm oil for their income? I would suggest that we leave the land alone, so that peasants can continue to grow oil palms and women can have access to the raw materials we need to pursue our activities. The situation is identical in Togo, Benin’s neighbour to the west. In the district of Vo in Togo, women peasants and traditional palm oil producers showed that women throughout West Africa share the same stories and concerns. Ami Yovogan, President of the Ghénondou women’s group It is our mothers who did this work of processing red palm oil. We inherited it from them. According to our mothers, their husbands would collect the palm fruit to bring back to the village. Sometimes, we obtain credit that we must pay back later. When you do the math, you realise you’re not left with much. Frankly, we do it because we have to do something. Kpalimé central market These days, people don’t care much about traditional oil palm plantations. They’re destroyed or replaced by other land uses. For 45 years, the new oil palms will yield between 15 and 20 fruit bunches per year, of 3 to 5 kilos each. With time, the number of bunches will decrease, but their weight increases. The natural oil palm, however, stays at about 4 fruit bunches. I think that today in Benin, most peasants have switched to the new varieties. Alphonse Omora, Division chief, INRAB POBE It might seem like a revolutionary improvement, but it’s actually a turn for the worst that comes at a high cost for women peasants and palm oil producers.