|dc.description||Several vegetable oils are used widely in human and animal nutrition and in industry. Scientifically they are known as lipids: oils when liquid, fats when solid. They are derived from a variety of annual and biennial crops (soya, sunflower, groundnut, rapeseed and even maize), and from perennial trees and shrubs (coconut, oil palm, and olive). Oil-producing species contribute considerably to agricultural production and trade. Tropical vegetable oils have been losing market share to soya and rapeseed oils. Can this loss of market be reversed?
Oil crops and their products are the second most valuable commodity in world trade. Until recently they have been of particular importance to a great many ACP countries. They provide edible oils and fats for human consumption, animal feeds high in protein and raw material for many industrial uses. Also, the oil processing industries offer substantial employment opportunities, usually in rural areas, for a wide range of skills.
The coconut palm typifies this versatility. Coconut oil is used in margarine, biscuit manufacture and cooking oil; in soap, shampoo, cosmetics and hair oil; in explosives, plastics, resins, rubber substitutes and safety glass manufacture; and as a lubricant and fuel. The pressed cake, obtained after oil extraction, is a protein-rich livestock feed and a fertilizer. The oil palm belongs to the same family as the coconut palm, and palm oil is used for many of the same purposes. In view of these numerous benefits, it is disturbing to see decline in yields and acreages in ACP countries.
Overall production of vegetable oils has increased dramatically in the last 50 years: from 1935-39 to 1985-89 world oilseed output increased four-fold from 49 million to more than 200 million tonnes. The most dramatic expansion has been in soya production, which increased by 650% during this period. Growing at an annual rate of 5.2% in the latter half of the period 1935-85, soya increased its share of the world vegetable oil market from less than 25% to more than 50%. Sunflower production increased by 630% and rapeseed by 350% in the same 50-year period, and these two crops now account for 19% of world oilseed compared with 13% in the 1930s.
In the face of such competition from temperate oilseed crops, tropical crops such as coconut, oil palm and groundnut now have ~ only 11 % of the world market compared to 20% previously.
Factors affecting production
Several factors have led to the relative decline of vegetable oil production in the tropics in general and the ACP countries in particular. Firstly, soya and rape oil produced under farm support policies in wealthy industrialized countries have been sold at prices below the cost of production of tropical vegetable oils. Moreover, the pressure to liberalize trade and open home markets to foreign competition has resulted in subsidized low-cost imports benefiting ACP consumers at the expense of ACP farmers, processors and employment. Lack of investment in ACP plantations and processing plants has undoubtedly aggravated the situation by reducing yields, quality and productivity of farms and factories. In addition, coconut and oil palm harvesting remains labour-intensive, whereas harvesting of soya and rape is highly mechanized. Lack of labour and high labour costs have also hit tropical production. Finally, economies of scale have again favoured the ACP's competitors: Brazil and the US, the world's major soya producers, grow the crop on large acreages as do Canadian and EEC growers of oilseed rape; and Malaysia grows oil palm in vast plantations. The small farmers and fairly modest sized estates in ACP producing countries cannot compare or compete.
At first sight the future for tropical vegetable oils in ACP countries looks bleak. However, local initiatives demonstrate that opportunities do exist. At one extreme the two small Caribbean countries of Trinidad and Tobago and Dominica show how efficient management and aggressive marketing can find a place for local production, in this case of coconut oil. In Dominica the coconut products factory produces soap which is to be found throughout the Caribbean, while the Coconut Growers Association Ltd of Trinidad and Tobago successfully manufactures and sells coconut-based magarine, cooking oil, shortening, and soaps in various forms. CGA Ltd's Nariel brand edible oil products are promoted as organically grown and the company is confident of substantially increasing exports in the next two years.
In Africa, Benin is expanding coconut production to meet its own needs and to export to Togo, while Cameroon has been considering coconut production on land infected by an oil palm disease caused by Fusarium. Many West African countries could benefit from expanding their production of palm oil, an intrinsic part of the local culture.
In recent years doubt has been cast on the health risks of tropical vegetable oils and this has dented consumer confidence. However, US research has disproved the validity of this risk and it would seem that vegetable oils are not a health risk when consumed as part of a nutritionally well balanced diet. Undoubtedly opportunities remain for tropical vegetable oil producers to fight back by looking to first satisfy local demand and then to export a range of products. To succeed they will have to be more efficient agronomically and commercially and their governments will have to seek fair terms in any free trade agreements.||