Though abundant throughout across the globe, the palm plant is known to have originated from West Africa. Almost every country in the sub-region produces significant amounts of palm oil and palm kernel cake.
Nigeria was the world’s leading producer until 1970, when Malaysia and Indonesia rose to become the leaders. The latter now account for more than 80 percent of global production.
In recent times, however, significant production increases are being registered in West Africa, thanks to increased plantation investments and out-grower support. At the same time, palm kernel cake is gaining prominence as a foreign exchange earner and solution to a major problem in West Africa: the inadequacy of grassland resources to sustain domestic cattle production.
By-product with promise
Palm kernel cake (PKC) is a by-product of palm oil production. Palm oil is the world’s most widely produced oil, and growing global demand has naturally increased the supply of PKC. While India, Europe and China are the major palm oil importing countries, the bulk of PKC exports go to New Zealand and Europe.
A significant amount of PKC is used domestically as cattle feed in Malaysia and Indonesia, where it is fed to feedlot cattle at very high levels. One report states that “it is a common practice in Malaysia to produce complete feeds based on PKC, either as pellets, cubes or total mixed ration.”
Palm kernel cake is a by-product of palm oil production used in animal feed. | GOPDC
PKC is widely known in West Africa as a viable feed ingredient, but until recently it has been mostly used as a source of energy and fiber in poultry, pig and fish rations.
West Africa also exports modest quantities. Although PKC has traditionally been used by small holders as a complimentary cattle feed source, its deployment in large herd cattle feed is a recent development.
Experts believe that PKC has the potential to make West Africa self sufficient in beef production, and thus solve the major headache associated with dependence on Fulani herdsmen. West Africa also has the potential to substantially increase revenues from PKC exports.
Investments in PKC
All over West Africa, investments are being made in palm plantations and processing plants. Of the world’s 23 major producers of PKC, 10 are West African, accounting for some 370,000 metric tons annually.
Nigeria leads with 75,000 metric tons, followed by Ghana with 56,000 and the Ivory Coast with 53,000.
Small exporters account for the bulk of current export figures. But this is expected to change quite soon, as bigger producers enter the market. For example, the Siat Group, with palm plantations in Ghana, Cote d’Ivoire and Nigeria, raised Ghana’s output potential significantly when its local subsidiary, GOPDC, started the first production of pelletized PKC in 2014.
Even though small farmers account for most palm oil and PKC production, big plantation investors are driving recent production increases,
PKC’s role in conflict resolution?
PKC has the potential to solve a major problem associated with beef supply in the sub-region.
Most of West Africa’s beef consumption is supplied by semi-nomadic Fulani herdsmen, originally from the Sahelian parts of Africa, who can now be found across West and Central Africa. In recent times, they have been involved in often violent clashes with farmers of towns and villages where they have driven their cattle, destroying crops and water sources.
There are regular reports of criminal behavior among the herdsmen. In April, the Nigerian president ordered a crackdown on Fulani herdsmen who had killed scores of people across the nation. In Ghana, farmers and residents of various communities have often demanded action by government against armed Fulani herdsmen who have regularly destroyed crops, polluted water sources and committed various criminal offenses. And in March, 17 people died when Fulani herdsmen clashed with crop farmers in the northeastern town of Bouna in Cote d’Ivoire.
Governments are seeking to establish ranches as means of solving this problem. On May 10, 2016, Nigeria’s Minister of State, Agriculture, Heineken Lokpobiri, announced that the federal government was planning to establish cattle ranches to solve the problem of continuous clashes between the herdsmen and farmers. The Minister of Agriculture, Audu Ogbeh, announced recently that government had imported grass seedlings from Brazil, to be grown at “massive grasslots” for feeding cattle.
In West Africa, the tension between nomadic Fulani herdsmen and villagers for land and grazing rights has become increasingly violent. However, an abundance of palm kernel cake could offer a feeding solution to help diffuse the conflict. | iStock
“We can’t allow cows to be roaming around anyhow,” Lokpobiri said. The Senate Committee on Agriculture has expressed its support for the scheme. Ghana’s Deputy Minister for Agriculture, Hannah Bissiw, has also proposed the establishment of a “big cattle ranch” where cattle would be confined, to solve this problem.
But quite a number of people, including agriculture experts, have criticized and even derided the idea. While government officials believe that the “massive grasslots” would start producing feed for cattle within two years, most informed observers say this is highly optimistic, given the major financial problems facing government, and the logistic issues involved in implementing such a scheme.
They argue that Nigeria and its West African neighbors can solve this apparently intractable problem by deploying palm kernel cake in addition to their limited grassland resources. The viability of PKC, they state, is already proven, and it can be produced in vast quantities for local cattle production, and to increase export revenue.
It is an interesting fact that, for many years, West Africans have used PKC and other agricultural by-products in dry season fattening of cattle in small feedlots, where cattle are fattened for 90 to 120 days. This is done to increase weight gain, carcass quality and carcass yield.
Ten of the world's largest PKC producers are found in West Africa. | iStock
Dairy industry also benefits
With governments determined to stop the cross-territorial herding of cattle, the problem of sourcing feed for the big ranches and feedlots can be solved by the use of PKC. There are substantial amounts of PKC at palm oil processing sites, which would be enough to support feeding at the ranches and feedlots. With plantation farmers accounting most of the growth in palm production, West Africa can count on sufficient amounts of PKC to increase export revenues, and to support domestic cattle production.
Indeed, hopes are being raised that PKC could also give West Africa’s struggling dairy industry a badly needed thrust. A substantial amount PKC used within Malaysia and Indonesia is used to feed dairy cows. Yet in Ghana, dairy production is based on imported bulk milk products, while Nigeria imports 75 percent.
Though West Africa has struggled with the problem of meeting domestic meat requirements, and experts believe that PKC has the potential to solve the problem.
References available upon request.