Oil palm trees produce palm oil, the commodity. Just like coconut palm trees produce coconuts.
2. Isn’t palm oil bad and doesn’t palm oil production destroy habitat?
Destruction to rainforest and displacement of indigenous populations in SE Asia to make way for palm oil plantations is undoubtedly deplorable. But palm oil developments do not have to follow this path. We are building an industry here in Kigoma that seeks to avoid repeating the mistakes of SE Asia while creating prosperity for local farmers. Oil palm trees are not inherently bad, it’s all about how the developments are done. You can read more about this here and here.
With the possible exception of agroforestry (harvesting food from forests) all food production requires land that was previously used for something else; most often forest or grassland. In this palm oil is no different. However, when compared to other oil crops (sunflower, olive, coconut etc.) palm use a lot less land.
By growing oil palm trees as part of an agroforestry system we are able to mitigate, and in fact reverse, many of the negative effects of agricultural production – loss of biodiversity, degradation of soil health, and reduction in carbon sequestration. Our oil palm agroforestry system was designed with the help of agronomists and ecologists to maximize biodiversity, improve soil health, and sequester more carbon than possible on an oil palm monoculture. Our self-sustaining agroforestry system doesn’t rely on the use of chemical fertilizers which, if misused, can pollute waterways and harm local wildlife. Furthermore, the use of wide-canopy trees keeps the ground shaded and cool, increasing soil moisture during the long dry season.
3. How much of my money goes directly to supporting farmers and does my money go to the farmer I sponsored?
97% of our money is spent on our programs. The remainder is on administration and fundraising. You can read about how we arrived at these numbers and more about our effectiveness here. The money you contribute to a farmer’s investment goes directly to completing the cost of providing trees for that farmer. None of your money will be spent on our other activities such as farmer trainings. It’s straight trees!
4. Why am I contributing in AUD?
Seed Change lives and works in Kigoma and is a registered nonprofit in Tanzania. Typical web payment portals (i.e. PayPal) do not allow accounts to be linked to African bank accounts. Seed Change is partnered with the Agricultural Improvement Fund (AIF), a charity registered with the Australian Charities and Not for Profit Commission (ACNC) so that we can collect donations over the internet. All donations are therefore processed in AUD. AIF transfers all Seed Change donations to our Tanzanian bank account. We have regular meetings with AIF and review bank statements to be certain all money meant for Seed Change is used by Seed Change to help Kigoma smallholders. AIF’s ACNC registered ABN is 34318980208.
5. What evidence do you have to show that Seed Change will actually lead to improved lives for farmers?
The mainstay of the Kigoma economy is palm oil. By improving incomes from palm oil, farmers will have more money in their pockets. Refineries in Dar es Salaam import over US$370 million a year of crude palm oil from Malaysia and Indonesia. If the production of the Kigoma region could be boosted, some of this business would stay in the country. The key to achieving this is growing high-yielding, commercial oil palm trees. The forecasted yields of our tenera trees – and hence increased incomes and improved lives for farmers – are conservative estimates based upon reported yields of these trees grown in comparable conditions.
6. How many farmers does Seed Change help?
Since 2014 Seed Change has worked with roughly 1,150 farmers across 15 villages and distributed ~133,000 trees.
7. Why are Seed Change trees better than local trees?
Oil palm trees are native to Kigoma. Unfortunately, the tree that is native to the region is the thick shelled dura variety; the low yielding, non-commercial variety of oil palm. All commercial plantations the world over use tenera trees, a hybrid of dura and pisifera, a shell-less variety. Seed Change’s trees are tenera. But we are not introducing an outside commodity to Kigoma. We use a variety of tenera known as ‘Tanzania x Ekona’ where the parent dura tree was sourced right here in Kigoma. Our trees combine the commercial yields of tenera with the bonus of being exactly suited to the local conditions such as climate, altitude, and rainfall patterns.
8. How long before farmers see livelihood benefits?
Our trees take four years to mature from seed to fruiting. The trees yield fruit for 25-30 years. This maturity time is fairly standard for any tree crop (coffee, fruit trees, etc).
9. So, do you make money from this?
Seed Change is a registered non-profit in both Tanzania and Australia. All revenue goes back into Seed Change’s programs and to further improving the lives of people in Kigoma.
10. How do you ensure that the project remains community oriented?
Smallholder farmers are at the heart of everything we do. They are the reason Seed Change exists. We are in constant contact with the farmers we work with and always consult with them widely when considering a programmatic change.
11. How will this project create long term opportunities for the local people of Kigoma?
It is not just the farmers of Kigoma that struggle to send their kids to school or invest in the future. The region is one of the poorest in Tanzania and good paying jobs are scarce. A thriving smallholder focused industry will create many jobs in the value chain. In fact, agricultural development has a high ‘multiplier effect’ meaning many flow-on benefits are created by boosting agricultural production.
12. Why have you decided to make the shift into oil palm agroforestry?
Through some hard earned experienced, we learnt that developing the smallholder oil palm industry has meant more than providing farmers with high-yielding trees. Farmers living in poverty can’t be expected to manage farms that don’t generate income for 3-5 years, the time it takes for oil palm trees to produce fruit. They need to feed their families today! They also can’t afford the chemical fertilizers or irrigation systems needed to fully optimize output on their lands. They need a solution that generates money sooner, meets household nutritional needs, and is self-sustaining to keep soils fertile and healthy.