AfCFTA: Ghana must optimise strength in palm oil production, says Unilever MD

George Owusu-Ansah says a guaranteed litigation-free tenure system would promote commercial cultivation of palm oil to meet local and international demands

George Owusu-Ansah, the managing director of Unilever Ghana, has challenged Ghana to take advantage of the Africa Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) to invest in palm oil production for manufacturing and export.

He said oil palm served as raw material for industry and a good source of foreign exchange and urged Ghana to use its comparative arable land to cultivate the country’s second most important tree crop, after cocoa.

Owusu-Ansah, who was speaking in an interview with the Ghana News Agency, said Ghana was blessed to be part of the world where the oil palm tree thrived, what was needed, therefore, were a good land tenure system, sustainable cultivation and value addition.

A guaranteed litigation-free tenure system would promote the commercial cultivation of palm oil to meet local and international demands.

“Palm oil is in cosmetics, palm oil is in soaps, palm oil is in pharmaceuticals, so it is big for us,” Owusu-Ansah, said.

“We just have to be smart and add value to it. This is the only way we can move from the Guggisberg economy as projected by the president.”

He, however, stressed the responsible cultivation of the tree crop to protect the environment, saying, “it is a great area and responsible sourcing is key.”

The managing director said Unilever Ghana’s biggest raw material was palm oil “so we pay a premium to source responsibly and we do not take palm oil from companies not certified, as our contribution to the protection of the environment.”

Seventy per cent of the volume of products (home and personal care products) of the company are manufactured locally.

“As a Ghanaian…, I’m very keen about our manufacturing prospects because it will employment for our youth and solve many of our socio-economic problems that’s why I believe we can leverage on our palm oil to expand our manufacturing base,” he stated.

Oil palm production is said to account for 37% of the total global output of oilseeds, overtaking soybean oil as the leading vegetable oil with West Africa accounting for 3.7%, thus growing demand for the subregion and the entire continent.

According to the Ministry of Food and Agriculture in 2010, the total estimated area of oil palm in the country was 330,000 hectares, a chunk belonging to unorganised smallholder farmers.

During the colonial era, Ghana emerged as one of the world’s leading producers of palm oil but production has shrunk over the years, while palm oil emerges as the world’s most widely used vegetable oil.

On Unilever Ghana’s commitment to environmental sustainability, Owusu-Ansah said the Company had also invested in solar panels to reduce pressure on the national grid, with work ongoing to ensure products their products had much less impact on the environment.

For instance, research was ongoing to ensure that consumers would use less water when using detergents for cleaning or soaps in washing machines, he explained.

“Our focus is the responsible use of energy and water and we are also working with others to manage plastic waste in the country under the Gripe initiative,” Owusu-Ansah, said.

It has also invested in a biomass boiler and modern soap dryers to save energy, while water is recycled.

The managing director, described Unilever Ghana as a “Force for good even in challenging times,” saying, there were no job losses in the Company during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“There were no job losses. No salary cuts. We maintained all our over 900 local workers and engaged a few more with a focus on employment protection for all our workers, including third parties,” he said.

Owusu-Ansah said the company was out of the difficult times it experienced in 2019 and attributed the feat to growth in sales and lower costs; investment in people, strengthening of leadership and better financial management.

“We are not yet where we want to be but we are on the right path. We can see the light and we are working to be future-fit.

“We are developing portfolios that serve Ghanaians irrespective of income levels to improve the lives of all, whiles making work more fun with technology for our employees,” Owusu-Ansah said and cautioned the public to continue to adhere strictly to COVID-19 protocols.

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