Monday, February 7, 2011

A Palm Kernel Processing Factory

Dear Friends,

As I mentioned last week, we have had a team of Canadian business women here, learning about the work of Partners Worldwide and Hopeline Institute in Ghana.  On the first day of the visit, we went to visit a Village Savings and Loan group (VSL) [ for more info on the VSL, please click here].  This particular VSL is a group of 16 women who run a palm kernel processing factory.  When we informed the team that we were going to see a palm kernel factory, a different picture came to mind than what they actually saw.  See below.
The group of women, getting ready for their meeting, right at the factory site.

Here are bunches of palm nuts, after they have been cut down from the palm tree.  These bunches are on their way to the market.
As we stopped to look at the palm nuts, there was a woman with a baby.  I learned, when traveling with a group of women, that I needed to beware if any baby was in the area - all focus would be lost on what we were observing and all focus would be on the baby!
This picture is actually from Liberia, but here you see the palm nuts being processed to produce the red palm oil but also what is used in palmbutter soup.
Here we are arriving at the Palm Kernel Factory.  This is Fanny, Director of Hopeline, and the Field Officer, Nesto, who is in charge of this VSL as well as about 30 others VSLs.  You can see the piles of palm nut kernels on the ground - this is what is left after the red palm oil has been taken from the nut.
The first step is to crack the kernels in the machine.
The cracked nuts then get sent here where this woman is preparing to wash the cracked nuts in clay water - the clay helps to hold down the shells and allows the nuts to float.

She is holding a sieve, which will collect the floating nuts.  This work is not easy - we left this woman to visit another group and drove by again four hours later - she was still at it.
The women then sort through the nuts by hand to take out any shells that might have remained after the clay water washing.  The nuts are then washed in clean water.
The nuts then go to be roasted over a fire.  There is no waste here, folks.  The fire is made from the shells of the nuts.  Very hot work - it's already 90 F with an 80% humidity.  After this roasting, they are then sent to another machine where they are ground into a paste.
The paste is added to a large pot of boiling water where eventually the paste will turn into an oil that separates from the water and can be skimmed off the top.
And here is precious oil that will be used for eating as well as for soap and other products - if you've every used Palmolive soap, you may have used palm oil from Ghana. I believe they told me that they make 15 of the yellow 5 gallon containers that you see here, every two weeks.  Each of the containers is sold for about $20 US, so $150/week for 16 women.  And yet they are able to save money in this VSL and help themselves.
The women talked about how hard the work is - you can see the effect of it on their body and skin.  They shared with gratitude how much this business has done for their families in terms of allowing them to put food on the table and pay school fees.  They also shared how the VSL has helped them over the last nine months. 

Some of the members of the Canadian team wondered when the last time was that these women were pampered - given a retreat, had their nails done, hair done, etc.  Who knows?