Here at Seed Change we are extremely proud of the fact that the trees we provide our farmers with are hugely valuable. As you’ll no doubt remember from our last blog post, hidden inside each $1 Costa Rican seed is a whopping US$720 of value. Multiply this by the thousands of trees we hand out each year and the impact really is worth repeating – our latest shipment of high-yield palm oil trees has a potential value of $34,560,000 for local smallholder farmers.
This is a staggering amount of money, not least since the annual per capita income in Kigoma is as low as US$278. But why are our palm trees so valuable? How exactly do they generate income for farmers?
Palm oil is used in a very high proportion of household products. In fact, half the packaged products in any supermarket contain palm oil, so the chances are high that you have a lot of palm oil products in your house. But most of our farmers’ palm oil doesn’t make the long, arduous journey to your local supermarket. There is strong demand for palm oil right here; so small-scale farmers across the region sell their products locally. Most people in Kigoma and its neighbouring regions use the crude, red palm oil for cooking. Red palm oil is sold for around US$0.90/L. Seed Change trees tend to yield between 21 and 28 litre every year. You can do the maths! (Hint: the answer is $34,560,000!)
While cooking oil is made from the fleshy parts of the palm fruit, the oil in the kernel is also valuable in local markets. As many DIY blogs will confirm, the kernel oil is a great base for soap formulas. The kernels are dried in the Kigoma sun and later pressed to extract the oil in local workshops. A number of local co-ops and producer groups then process (and dye) the oil into soap. The result is a blue-white soap bar that is so commonplace in Kigoma, we should have included it in our ‘Get To Know Kigoma’ blogpost.
On top of the oils extracted from different parts of the fruit, a palm tree has even more to offer. The pinnate leaves of the oil palm can easily be 3-5 metres long and palm trees shed these enormous leaves on a yearly basis and these dead leaves have a veritable smorgasbord of uses. The woody stem of the leaves is strong and is used as fuel or building material, the leaves themselves can be recycled in the palm plantation as mulch, or can be used as a base for weaving baskets, and sometimes the leaf as a whole is used in fences and temporary constructions. It should be clear by now that while palm oil is the major source of income for palm farmers, families can get a significant additional bonus from the tree’s by-products. These lesser know sources can boost a family’s income by up to 10%.
All of these sources of revenue show that higher yielding seeds mean permanently higher incomes and so, by using our trees, local smallholder farmers can lift their families out of poverty, for good.