“RED GOLD” – ANOTHER RESOURCE CURSE?

In most African countries, the prices of basic commodies are greatly linked to the price of fuel. This could be attributed to the cost of transportation which increases with fuel price increases and the high elasticity of local demands which make it easier for the consumers to bear the biggest brunt of any increases. This no doubt makes one sees how the capitalist system is working harder than ever to increase the chasm between rich and poor. The removal of the fuel subsidy in Nigeria and the mayhem that followed seem to have been the test-drive by the IMF and World Bank. Since protests in Nigeria did not have much impact, there is now consideration of covering more grounds. Cameroon happens to be next in line – but unlike Nigeria that recieved so much attention, I will not be suprised if ‘France-dominated Cameroon’s removal goes unnoticed.

The thought of it has however made me go back to look at an article I wrote for FabAfrique Magazine  on the ‘Red Gold’. If the problem of black gold has been subsidies, what exactly is the problem of this resource?

Palm Fruits cut in half

Over the last few months I have not ceased to wonder if Africa would have been better-off without all the abundance of natural resources. What with all the appellations like Collier’s ‘Natural Resource Trap’, the ‘Natural Resource Curse’ or most strangely, the one that beats me most, the ‘Dutch Disease’[1]. The paradox of a blessing being a curse at the same time, is one too complex for my little head to fathom. But behold, the evidence is overwhelming and I cannot pretend not to see it – the conflict that seems to accompany natural resources and the widespread poverty in Africa – a land of affluence.

It is a fact that Africa is blessed with rich soil that permits it to grow almost everything needed for mankind’s existence. There’s cocoa for chocolate, and its related products, coffee for tea, timber for construction and the making of wooden instruments and paper, cotton for clothing, palm for palm oil, and many others.

Africa is also flooded with natural resources that the world largely depends on. Amongst these are gold, copper, bauxite, diamond, and the one that is usually called “black gold”, crude oil. Another form of “gold” has come up today, which I term “red gold”. This is crude palm oil that amounts for a greater part of income in countries like Nigeria, Ivory Coast, DR Congo and Cameroon. And it is these countries that stand tall in the hall of fame of crude palm oil production in Africa.

Unfortunately, it is also a fact that diamonds are responsible for Sierra Leone’s worst nightmare, that Nigeria’s fuel subsidy crisis is a manifestation of the case of a country ‘living at the banks of a river and washing its hands with spittle’, that the civil war in the Congo and the Libyan crisis are cases where resources have made people wolf unto their brothers – just to name a few.

Am I deliberately leaving out Cameroon here? This should not have been surprising since World Bank Director Paul Collier in his award winning book The Bottom Billion deliberately leaves out Cameroon in most serious discussions and only mentions it briefly when referring to the depletion of resources in the Country.

I am not going to delve into questioning why Cameroon seems so much under the radar or where the depleted resources have gone to, but I am bound by conscience to wonder if Cameroon is free from the resource curse. I am going to take a look at just one resource here – what I call The ‘Red Gold’. This is crude palm oil that accounts for a greater part of income in countries like Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Cameroon. These are the countries that stand tall in the hall of fame of crude palm production in Africa.

The Republic of Cameroon which ranks fourth in crude palm oil production in Africa according to the United Nation’s Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) has crude palm oil as one of its main agricultural products. The country which is fondly called ‘Africa in miniature’ can boost of a yearly production of about 200,000 tons of palm oil. In 2011, production was 210,000 tons up from the previous 200,000 tons.

Crude palm oil which has always been a part of the

Local Palm Oil Processing

people of much of West Africa, and Cameroon in particular actually gained industrial prominence in 1910 when the Germans established industrial plantation units around Edea under the Société de Palmerais de la Ferme Suisse. Then, came the Cameroon Development Corporation (CDC), in the 1940s. And later on the PAMOIL Cameroon Ltd.

Palm oil production in Cameroon is highly favored by the tropical climate that consist of 4 to 5 months of dry season, and about 7 to 8 months of rainy season, coupled with the South West Monsoon wind that blows across the coast of the country where large agro industrial corporations like the Cameroon Development Corporation (CDC) is situated, including the Palm Oil Corporation of Cameroon (PAMOIL), the Manyu Oil Palm Initiative. Independent farmers too, are involved in this highly lucrative business, and most of them have come under the Cameroon Association of Palm Oil Producers, headed by Claude Leonard Mpouma, and the Small Holders Scheme.

Large farms of palm nuts used in the production of palm oil which covers about 170,000 hectares can be seen mainly in the South West, South, Littoral, Centre and East.

This new form of “Red Gold” generates a yearly income of more 200 billion FCFA, about 400 million dollars, and provides about 65,000 indirect and direct jobs.

Because of the high quality of Cameroon’s crude red palm oil; which is cholesterol free and rich in vitamin E, there’s high demand for it at home and abroad. If it is not demanded for cooking, it is demanded for the making of soap and other cosmetic products found in the greatest shops around the world.

The exponential growth in demand has meant the supply is lagging as local production fails to grow simultaneously thanks to the poor state of farm-to-market roads, crude or rudimentary machines used by some small holders and the poor quality of some of the seedlings causing am almost 100% increase in the price of palm oil from the official 450frs CFA (almost a dollar) to about 750frs CFA in the black market. This poses a problem given that a majority of Cameroonians in the local areas live on less than a dollar a day. Much like Black Gold, this resource seems to be going down the road of becoming too expensive for the ordinary man.

The State of Most Cameroonian roads – Source: Cameroon Today Newspaper

While one could be optimistic enough to say that the future of palm oil in Cameroon is bright because of the ‘tarring’ of some farm-to-market roads, like the famous Kumba-Buea stretch of road, the widening of the Douala –Yaoundé road, and the provision of high yielding palm seedlings to farmers by structures like the Cameroon Development Corporation (CDC), PAMOIL Cameroon Ltd, Programme de Developémment de Palmerais Villageois(PDPV), which also coordinates the activities of small holders farmers, the question that remains unanswered is whether these modest achievements are worth commending in a country so richly blessed

Maybe I am not being reasonable here, given that the government has signed many agreements in favor of the farmers and in 2010, it jointly launched a project with the government of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (Africa’s biggest producer of palm oil) aimed at generating income in the palm oil sector in four years time, supported by the United Nations Industrial Development Organization and the Common Fund for Commodities.   Recently, Cameroon and UNIDO reached a deal in Vienna, Austria to promote the industrialization of palm oil production in Cameroon. Following this programme, four pilot centres were chosen; the Agro Industrial Unit in Bora in the East, Massoumbou Gardens in Littoral, the Agro Industrial Development Company in the South and the Manya Oil Palm Cooperative in the South West. This will certainly bridge the gap between demand and supply which requires the creation of about 20,000 hectares of palm tree farms yearly.

Modern Palm Oil Processing

These are wonderful efforts with great prospects but history and the reality of international trade dampen my hilarity. It is true that today, for the first time, most African countries have made the most impressive breakthrough into global markets for goods and services other than just primary products, it is also true that most of the firms established during the colonial era,[2] still continue to play a major role in the export-import trade of the now independent States which were their former colonial preserves. Most of these pay very low prices for the cash crops they export to Europe while they set very high prices for the finished products they import for sale in Africa. Also, the major share of their profits is sent back to their home countries rather than being invested in the African economies where the profits are made. This has the unfortunate effect that a structural imbalance is created in the African economies resulting from their over dependence on the export of one of few primary products and this makes their economies extremely vulnerable to external factors and seriously hinders their internal development.

This is my fear for the future of ‘Red Gold’.


[1] The Dutch disease is an economic concept that explains the apparent relationship between the increase in exploitation of natural resources and a decline in the manufacturing sector.

[2] e.g. UAC which is now Unilever

Contraceptives for Africa – A Misplaced Priority?

English: Logo of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foun...
Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Source: 2007 Annual Report (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The past week has been a stormy one for me on an intellectually stimulating Facebook Group Perception. The most challenging discussion has been the issue of 2Billion Dollars worth of Contraceptives that is being sent to Africa by the Gates Foundation and the UK government over the period of 8 years.

WORLD CONTRACEPTIVE USE

Despite being a Catholic (who should according to her religion denounce any form of modern contraceptive), Melinda Gates argues that this is going to be a milestone in curbing the rate of women dying in the continent due to child birth. While it can be argued that statistics support her, given that a study of 172 countries published in the medical journal The Lancet says that although bleeding, infections and other problems are the leading causes of mothers dying during pregnancy and childbirth in developing countries, “family planning is the primary intervention to prevent maternal mortality.”

The Lancet study further argues that family planning is already responsible for the prevention of a record 270,000 maternal deaths annually. These statistics are further given credence by the prime ministers of Rwanda and Ethiopia who state that more than 40 million women in sub-Saharan Africa would like to stop or postpone childbearing but have no means to do so.

Unfortunately, contrary to the research stats and the views of the Rwandan and Ethiopian PMs, opinions in African seem to be divided about the seemingly wonderful project.

Before I make any analyis on the situation, it will be good to look at some of the reactions posted by Nono Nkele on Perception.

***************** CAMEROON: *************

This is a misplaced priority. The world’s poor do not need this. What they need is basic necessities like potable water, electricity, decent and accessible healthcare, quality good roads, quality education for their children and accountable governments who do not steal their tax and national resources but they use them to enhance their quality of life. These monies will just end up subsidizing the pharmaceutical industry in Europe and America.

GOD SAYS GO AND MULTPLY WHY ECONOMISE? I thick it those with empty wallats who are advocating for contraceptives.

******************* GHANA: ******************

If abortion means killing, then the use of contraceptive like condom is kidnapping since the semen is trapped

I do support family planning. But it has not received much attention because of the misconceptions about its practice. It’s sort of looked at as something that will cause more harm than good in the end and so people are not patronising it at all. It is only found among the elites and the slightly educated folks around. I pray it will get the needed attention to help save our women and our mothers.

I think the issue is not about one supports family planning or not. Let us be fair to ourselves and stop this craze for wholesome acceptability of everything from this white people. How do you expect Bill and Melinda Gate Foundation to give you their millions of dollars for free when their own citizens are living in constant fear of joblessness and poverty? There cannot be any free meal and I don’t believe all of them. Until Africans are consulted in some of these things (not the elite) this effort will be in vain. It is not real!

I think is good and would help mothers and teenagers in Ghana

***************** UGANDA: ******************

Our president together with the first lady are doing much to see that people get to know as well as putting it in use, with those deep in villages coz many shun away after hearing it’s disadvantages but most of them are trying to use it. I think it’s ok to be brought and used in Africa coz the growth of our population is failing to be managed and think that it’s the best way to control all it’s disadvantages.

Some new drugs have been manufactured so lab rats are getting readied for tests

The hardest and most worrying state of it is that when financial or medical support lands in the hands of the corrupt officials in government. The poor will only hear about it but not giving them freely or cheaply

Africa is a third world nations with many diseases of no proper treatment, therefore we can produce many children as well so that disease will kill the rest while other remain

********************** KENYA: *****************

No! God is planning for us.

After getting educated most of us don’t understand ‘intercontinental politics’, VERY UNFORTUNATE. As a Registered Nurse I will not buy that idea contrary to my profession. Every child must be born and in turn must multiply is my greatest believe. What is the essence of believing in God and at the same time you want your own way of procreation. Yes I agree that too many births have its own challenges but what do you understand by ‘NATURAL FMLY PLANING’?. Why don’t they talk of ‘health services, proper sanitations, improved lifestyle’? I believe they are up to something, two billion dollars for free? NO DAY. I was raised too disagree with manmade family planning but strongly believe in NATURAL

Family planning is not yet welcome in my country. People are still ignorant about the benefits of it. Especially those in the rural areas are against it as they view it negatively. There is also major cultural and religious aspects to the whole issue of family planning. The priority is creating awareness on the need for family planning especially to the poor and vulnerable in rural areas as well as the urban poor who often have large families that they cannot cater for adequately

FAMILY PLANNING, exclusive breastfeeding and polygamy. These are the solution not Millions of dollars.

********************* NIGERIA: ****************

If there is only one country that supports birth control, that country should be Nigeria. Looking at the level of inequalities in allocation of resources and high level of illiteracy, particularly in the northern parts, the birth control policy could have been a good option of ameliorating our plights. But, because of religion sentiment and extremism, some unpatriotic Nigerians are seriously kicking against it.

The crucial question we must answer is Why do third world countries have a higher population growth than the developed countries? Britain did not talk of birth control until she put two things in place; free education and socialised medicine. What is family planning to a young girl or boy in a remote village whose stock in trade is to eke out a living by hawking in the street. Children are social safety nets and security to an average family in Africa. I am skeptical of developed countries’ patronising do-gooders. Money ploughed into these laudable projects may not filter to those who really need it. My take is (i) provide free and compulsory education accessible to all (ii) free medical services to the poor, children, and elderly (medi-aid, medi-care) (iii) use the media to inform the people of government programs.

Over population is one of developing countries greatest challenged.

Advocating birth control without explaining the benefit is a failure in itself never rely on Nigerian Government to pick your map and locate these rural communities if you wish to attain any meaningful impact

As it is in Nigeria now you don’t need to be told before you go for family planning because the standard of living over here is unfavourable to polygamous families

********************* MALAWI: ***************

Ha ha ha why do they have so much attention on Africa, why don’t they Use that Money in providing good housing and sanitation services in the areas they deem over populated. They should try China, it is exporting to many people to Africa. Or that Money should be used for sound and transparent economic reforms that can be favorable for all Africans, that is if they do that in True faith. Instead of contraceptives they should be aiming at building better hospitals, health centres and provide midwifery training in rural areas, buy ambulances and introduce other convenient services that would reduce maternal deaths. Africa is not only found in the Cities and Town Centres. Africa is in my village, where people do not have proper health services, Proper water ETC. I couldn’t agree more with this view notwithstanding I am for promoting contraception in Africa

I am sure that One’s mind is a Contraceptive on its own, it just needs to be well equipped, You tell people about contraceptive in my village they will laugh at you. Some of us are able to understand the goodness of contraceptives because we have learnt to equip our minds with knowledge, good and health life. We do not need contraceptives, we need services that can transform and change people’s mindsets. Otherwise transformation as an objective won’t arrive home…..otherwise, Africans are really African in their African Environment.

Contraception is anti-God. I support family planning but doubt if it is getting the attention it deserves

It’s not you who takes care of life but God alone. You have to read Mt 6:24-34(This is why I tell you not to be worried about the food & drink you need in order to stay alive,or about clothes for your body…..)

******************** ZAMBIA: ******************

Use of condoms, child spacing, pill and many others.

I live in rural Zambia and I work in a hospital and work mostly with pregnant mothers. My observations is that most women in rural areas don’t understand how some contraceptives work, and some can’t access the family planning drugs because they have to walk very long distances to the clinic/hospital. With proper education and easy access..It can work effectively.

Developing countries such as zambia were most of its population survives on less than a dollar per day and looking at the income per house hold family planning is inevitable. I support family planning because that’s the only way we can slow down the fast growing population in Zambia and Africa at large.

******************* SIERRA LEONE: *************

I support it and I hope the Catholic Church will get out of the way and stop misinforming people about its use

In my country where I live, Sierra Leone do accept and take family planning, contraception seriously, youth both male and female counterpart do prevent themselves from unwanted pregnancy except for teenagers who may not aware of it.

************** SOUTH SUDAN: ******************

Our population in our sub region is fine we don’t need family planning but we need basic needs like health, support agriculture ,roads, regional market, education etc.

Yes if it is true, then my country South Sudan should be served the first because it is one of the poorest Countries on the planet due to it being the youngest nation with the majority of the population under 25yrs.

It will really help my people in South Sudan, because we are still using traditional midwifes & our ladies are always victim.

**************** SOUTH AFRICA ***************

To the benevolent Foundation, thanks. But no, thanks. We are aware of the agenda of depopulation being pushed in the name of economy and helping us to better manage our families. It does not end with contraceptives but also with experimental vaccines that do not work against disease but against fertility. Investigative journalists worth their salt should look into that. It does not go down well with some of us that your work is done only in our lands. Lands with the potential to produce lots of food given all this manpower. Instead of supporting farming, people are concentrating on altering ovaries… Serio

******************* RWANDA******************

Family planning is needed because the number of people does not match with our resources,

*********CENTRAL AFRICA REPULBLIC: *********

We don’t need family planning. Stop all thing not contraception because it’s against the religion we’re Christians and we love God the meaning of contraception I read is not all for our society we must fight against deseases and family planning.

*************** SWAZILAND: ***************

I thought using condoms was the best and,not pills, injections and every thing

I suggest the Brits should start at home. Which will curb on the spiral of young single mums, or their draining resource on excess child care support. Cameron recently purported for a 3 child benefit policy- I think if they are really serious on budget cut. Then this package load of conceptive pill will work wonders in the UK than developing countries. After all Developing countries need to increase their economic market to align with the long time growth procrastination … While the Uk and the west need to shrink their market as it is over stretched. SO PILLS WILL MAKE A BETTER PLACE IN THE WEST THAN DEVELOPING COUNTRIES… Simply tosh

Oral Contraceptive Pill

After going through these comments and engaging in a heated debate with some critical minds across the globe, I was beginning to wonder if the problem was because I already was sceptical about any form of aid that came to the continent in the form of finished goods that were simply handed out to the people. I was also wondering if the problem could be the knowledge I had about the failed development paradigms since the 1960s. However, I was vindicated when Jerome Ngoh  came powerfully arguing that:

I can’t remember who said it but I can remember what he said: “it’s easier to pretend to be rich than it is to pretend to be poor”. Most of the comments in these thread make me laugh. Poverty is a societal self-sustaining philosophy. Yes, it starts with a male-dominated economic system in developing country but what keeps it in place has little to do with men. societal norms recruit previously exploited women to espouse and perpetuate this doctrine. Dady Kboy, is right: To change the story we need to tackle it from the economic/ educational empowerment of women. That is the recipe the West used. I am puzzled they deemed the chemical solution more appropriate for the “backward” people of the planet. That we are buying into it is more troubling. I hate bringing personal anecdotes into a story. I grew up poor. I remember the first time I told my mum about contraception, my grandma, not my father scolded me for bringing it up. I have discovered something about effecting change: I give my sisters the beat education money can buy. After exposing them to what the world has to offer, they don’t need a Bill- Melinda Gates foundation to educate them on the benefits of contraceptives.

I could not agree more with the above reasoning given that contraception is not a way of life – IT IS A CHOICE! Many women will have to choose to accept it or not! The ability to make that choice comes from education and awareness of what they want in life.

Provide all the contraception in the world to illiterate women and girls without the right economic and political atmosphere and they will become simply baby-less zombies.

Provide education, create jobs and an enabling environment and women will not need the Gates Foundation to provide for them – they will go look for it themselves and pay for it.

Empower the young women of Africa to think and stop thinking for them. Since a majority of these women are definitely illiterate, Melinda and her team have done all the thinking and decided that these women need it.

Actions such as these are what rob women of the ability to make informed choices and not the other way round.

Another aspect is the fact that when the West was faced with a similar crisis Malthus came up powerfully with his theory of population. As for the Malthusian theory of population I am not going to go in to all the theoretical debates he had with Ricardo and Keynesian contributions which clearly showed the contrary. However, let me state two points that are relevant to our discussion:

First, Malthus’s pessimistic conclusions have not been borne out by the history of Western European countries. The gloomy forecast made by Malthus about the economic conditions of future generations of mankind has not been realized in the Western world. Population has failed to grow as rapidly as predicted by Malthus and production has increased tremendously because of the rapid advances in technology. As a result, living standards of the people have risen instead of falling as was predicted by Malthus.

Secondly, Malthusian theory of population is based upon the law of diminishing returns as applied to agriculture. It on the basis of this law that Malthus asserted that food production could not keep pace with population growth. By making rapid advances in technology and accumulating capital in larger quantity, advanced countries have been able to postpone the stage of diminishing returns. By making use of fertilizers, better seeds, tractors and other agricultural machinery, they have been able to increase their production greatly. In fact, in most of the advanced countries the rate of increase of food production has been much greater than the rate of population growth.

Which brings me back to my basic question – can contraception solve any real economic problems in Africa? If so how?

Can education solve the controversy of contraception? YES! HOW? By giving women the knowledge to make informed choices.

Therefore – what Africa needs is the ability to think and not one foundation thinking and drawing conclusions – ones which they never implemented in their own case. Contraceptives may be good for birth control but when it comes to Africa as it is – I am apt to conclude that spending 2 billion is a misplaced priority.