An African Palm Oil Industry & Community: Local Red Gold Production in Central & East Africa
What is Palm Oil?
- Recognized by its yellow to deep red color, it’s Africa’s most widely used cooking oil.
- It is made by extracting the oil from the kernels of the palm fruit.
- It has a deep earthy smell when heated.
“I get hungry just off that smell!”
Bertil, a Congolese living in Machakos, Kenya
Where is it from?
- Palm oil is farmed in warm and wet climates like Southern Asia, South America’s Amazon forest, and sub-Saharan Africa.
- Products from the palm tree include fruit, kernels, and oils that have been integral in African diets for over 5,000 years.
- Congo, Uganda, and Rwanda, Ugand and even Kenya are all known for palm oil production in East Africa.
Who’s producing it?
- The majority of East African palm products are made by small-scale farmers & factories.
- The Congo basin used to be the world’s largest producer, until the industrial boom in Southern Asia in the 1980’s.
- This means that East Africa’s main market is the locals who have been using these products for generations.
A booming market
- Palm tree products like soaps, cosmetics, and wine are now available globally, especially within the diaspora communities.
- Demand in East Africa has grown as local communities share their own dishes & information on the health benefits from palm products both nationally and online.
“It is our oil,”
Joziane says, a Rwandese living in Kampala,
“I can’t make Sombe without it.”
How is it processed?
- Fallen seeds are collected by women and children, while larger kernel batches are picked and cut off the trees by skilled workmen.
- The kernels are boiled & strained multiple times before being crushed.
- The kernel flesh is used for products like biofuels, thatched roofing materials, or as an ingredient in dishes like Banga Soup.
- This process has remained largely unchanged for centuries.
Moving around East Africa
- Produced mainly in Congo, Uganda, Rwanda, & Western Kenya, it is accessible to most of East Africa.
- Products are shipped by local farmers and private businesses linked to distributors across Africa.
- The East African Union aids the selling & transporting of palm goods across Africa to support the market.
Where to find it
- Products like soaps and oils are readily available at large supermarkets across Africa.
- Specialty stores across the world may import from Congolese or African markets, but always check the product’s origins.
“I still get mine from Mama Steffan’s in Jamuhuri.”
Pierrette jokes about making the trip to the same old shop her parents used to buy palm oil.
What to cook with it?
A few of our favorite dishes from across Africa that include locally-sourced palm oil:
– Beans and matoke (Uganda)
– Isombe (DRC, Rwanda)
– Omena (western Kenya)
– Egusi Soup (Nigeria)
What do you like to use palm oil for? Let us know & tag us in your recipes with #MyJikoni!