Despite a fertile soil and being in an area where oil palms flourish and cassava crops grow well, agriculture is still not developed as much as we would like.
The provision of plant and equipment with which to process Palm Fruits and Cassava, liberates a good number of local people from subsistence farming. (At present the raw materials are sold for a very low price.) The villagers can sell quality Palm Oil and produce Garri from the Cassava Roots.
The infrastructure in the vicinity (electricity and drainage in particular) can be unreliable and inconsistent, while the distances involved in travelling over less than perfect roads can pose problems for those trying to obtain parts and spares to upkeep and maintain the equipment. These are daily challenges that the villagers and those working at the mill have to contend with.
The mill also serves as a social networking place, where men and women come to talk, share experiences, problems and difficulties and work together and share knowledge in trying to resolve them.
Palm oil processing is part of everyday life here in southeast Nigeria. Every community has countless palm trees giving the landscape a picturesquely tropical look, while the not-so-pleasant scent of palm fruit cooking is never far away. The process of turning palm fruit from the oil palm tree into crude palm oil for consumption is not only an important end product and key ingredient in many local dishes, but it is also an income generating activity that enables many women, as well as some men and youth, to earn additional finances to support their families.
Nigeria is currently the third largest producer of palm oil, but consumes more crude oil than it produces leading to the importation of additional oil from other countries. The oil produced from both the palm fruit and palm kernels have many other uses as well, including cosmetics and as an ingredient in processed foods.
One of the key components of the Mary Slessor Foundation (MSF) is the agricultural processing facility we operate for the community that provides the equipment, facility, and extra labor needed in the highly laborious process of turning palm fruit into crude oil, as well as the equipment for cracking kernels to be sold to traders and for processing cassava into garri, a staple food in the local diet. Currently, during the high season, we employ a manager (Nte) and three additional staff (Akong, Asuquo, and Emmanuel) and serve over twenty-five direct customers and their families. Our equipment is semi-mechanized, though many steps in the process are manual.
A benefit of our integrated NGO model is that every department supports each other in the development of the organization and community. When a piece of equipment in the mill needs servicing, trainees from the Mechanical Engineering & Metal Welding department at the MSF Vocational Training Center will come have a look and repair the equipment promptly under the supervision and with guidance from their instructors.
Women cooking garri at the MSF facility.
Nte (MSF mill manager) cooking palm fruit.
Emmanuel & Asuquo working hard on the presser.
Community members and customers work together to separate the fiber from the nut.
The main steps of the process are outlined below.