Palm Oil from Ghana – Serendipalm Co. Ltd.
Palm oil is a primary ingredient in Dr. Bronner’s bar soaps. It gives the bars their hardness and balances the lathering power of coconut oil, while keeping the soap from softening and dissolving too quickly. Palm oil also has a wide range of food uses and is experiencing fast-growing global demand. Yet, the rapid expansion of oil palm plantations in Southeast Asia is causing large-scale environmental degradation and social deprivation.
Since Dr. Bronner’s could not participate in such a supply chain, we began our search for a sustainable and socially responsible source of palm oil in 2006. With support from the NGO Fearless Planet, we found a host town and partners in Ghana’s rural Eastern Region near Asuom. Serendipalm Co. Ltd., our Ghanaian sister company, built a small-scale palm oil mill using traditional processes — but with better facilities and more efficient, safer equipment. We then began recruiting local smallholder farmers for conversion to organic practices.
Since the mill began production in 2008, Serendipalm has become the world’s largest Fair Trade & Organic (FTO) palm oil project working exclusively with smallholder farmers. We buy palm fruits from over 670 family farms with oil palm plots averaging seven acres in size. We pay our farmers fair prices for their palm fruits, including an organic premium, and support them with mulch, manure and training on organic agriculture, thus helping them to improve soil fertility and profitability. We now are the largest local employer in an area that has traditionally provided few reliable jobs for its growing rural population. The 200+ workers in our oil mill, primarily unskilled local women, enjoy working conditions and compensation uncommon in this industry.
Our Serendipalm project also continues to attract professional staff to Asuom. These include agricultural engineers and scientists, as well as accounting and administration professionals, who appreciate our participatory style of management. They care about rural development and have made Asuom their home, thus contributing to a “reverse rural exodus.” As Serendipalm grows, we will continue to offer new opportunities to motivated professionals.
Serendipalm now supplies FTO palm oil to Dr. Bronner’s and several renowned European Fair Trade companies, including GEPA and Rapunzel. For each shipment of palm oil, we charge our customers a Fair Trade premium. The premiums have been used for a range of community development projects so far, including drilling wells and installing tanks to provide community-operated water systems, building public toilet facilities, building nurses’ quarters for a local clinic, rebuilding a pedestrian bridge, installing lighting, and providing school supplies to our staff members’ children. These projects are selected by a committee with representation from all stakeholders, and they offer great opportunities for cooperative community development for which there are no other funds available.
In addition, Serendipalm has been directly funding several other community development projects. We offer our farmers oil palm seedlings of more productive varieties at cost and interest-free; we plant trees as “green islands” in our host villages; we donated and organized the distribution of 5,000 mosquito nets to address the high incidence of malaria in the region; and we helped the Asuom local health clinic build a maternity ward.
The technical properties of palm oil make it an excellent ingredient in organic food and personal care products. Serendipalm demonstrates than it can come from sources that contribute to rural development in a fair and sustainable way. With growing demand for our palm oil, we are now expanding operations — to the benefit of farmers, workers and the local community. In addition, we are happy to see that other entrepreneurs have now started to develop new FTO palm oil projects.
Watch our “Fair Trade Palm Oil: Animated” video to learn more.