Traditional Palm Oil Production

Gladys Ambo

Douala, Cameroon - Sept 2007

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Palm oil is used by the majority of households in Cameroon. it is relatively cheap in comparison to vegetable oil and it is a common ingredient used in cooking many traditional dishes in the country.

Industrial production of the oil is not able to meet all needs, hence additional amounts are produced by traditional methods in rural areas, such production processes differ from place to place.

For example people from the Ambelle clan put in a lot of effort in order to produce palm oil. The clan is found in the widikum sub-division of the North-west province of Cameroon and comprises of ten villages.

To produce palm oil they utilise an age-old method which involves constructing a pit with stone. The pit is usually about 2m long, 100cm wide and 125cm deep. A hole is created on one of the sides to allow water to pass through. Oil is extracted from palm fruits by placing them in the pit and crushing them under foot.

The whole process is carried out by men and the women. It all begins by cutting down the ‘cons’ (as they are popularly known by the indigenes) i.e. the stalk and fruit on which palm fruits are attached. Men undertake this task by climbing the tree and employing a machete.

Women then take over by gathering the ‘cons’ and covering them with plantain leaves in advance of the selection process which takes place a few days later. Thereafter the selected fruits are transported to the pit site where they are boiled in large drums of between 500-1000 litres. This stage takes about 2-4 hours depending on the quantity of fruit.

After boiling the fruit is then spread in the pit, here one will find about four or five women crushing the fruit with their feet as if they were in a traditional dance performance while another woman stands outside the pit occasionally pouring in water.

A thick red substance is obtained and it is poured into cooking pots and boiled for several hours so as to extract the water that was added earlier. As the water is extracted the constituency of the substance becomes lighter. This substance is of course palm oil. It is poured into gallons and is now ready to be sold.

This traditional way of producing palm oil is very demanding and limited quantities are obtained, thus the income generated from the process tends not to be high.