The monitoring of field staff, the efficiency of the mappings, the ease of retrieving loans on soft copy, have all become efficient. We now have a fully digitised system with total ease of monitoring
If Sierra Leone is now a leading producer of palm oil, it is because the oil palm grows abundantly in the tropical climate of West Africa. And yet, despite its 24,000 hectares of oil palm and 185,000 farmers owning palms, palm oil is still being imported to meet all the country’s needs. One of the main reasons for this situation is that the country is still recovering after a long civil war and Ebola Virus Disease. But with such an ideal tropical location, Sierra Leone could get far more self-sufficient in palm oil production. This is when Goldtree (S.L.) Limited was incorporated in 2007 and made a mark in the country’s economy, through the rehabilitation of an abandoned palm oil mill and plantation, aided by the African Agriculture Fund (AAF), the Goldtree founder (Pan-African Agribusiness Limited) and the Finnish Fund for Industrial Cooperation (FinnFund), reviving the oil palm industry in the province. Located near Daru in Kailahun district in Sierra Leone’s Eastern Province, Goldtree is now a large commercial plantation producing organic palm oil for consumption in the regional and local markets.
The palm oil industry, however, hasn’t had it easy. It has been under scrutiny in recent times for its destruction of primary rainforests and harm and disturbance to indigenous people. This made the production and consumption of palm oil, in some quarters, public enemy number one. For a company committed to producing palm oil sustainably with maximum reward to the thousands of workers dependent on its production for their livelihood, the solution was organic certification. And this certification is called the RSPO [Roundtable on sustainable palm oil], a global standard for sustainable palm oil. Transparency and credibility are assured through RSPO Supply Chain Certification and RSPO Principles and Criteria Certification. Goldtree is committed to the principles and criteria of RSPO and is an RSPO member since November 2015. Goldtree aims to be RSPO certified in 2020.
Goldtree is collaborating with industry bodies, government agencies and other relevant organizations to promote environmental and social care of its farms and farmers, increase knowledge and disseminate best practices in sustainable palm oil. Goldtree is committed to the practices of zero deforestation, not to farm on greenland fields, maintaining an area for wildlife reserves which is integrated into the design of its plantations, protect water quality and recognise water quality as integral to health of the wider environment. Apart from its own nuclear plantation, Goldtree invests in thousands of local smallholder farmers within a forty kilometers radius of the mill, by buying their fresh fruit. However, ensuring an organic certification requires accurate and timely monitoring of all farms.
Goldtree recognises the value of indigenous peoples as the most valuable asset, and aims to benefit local communities by providing employment and advancement opportunities. Goldtree’s outgrower department engages over 7,000 farmers a year, whereby smallholder oil palm farmers in the area are a primary source of supply for Goldtree’s oil palm processing unit. In this context, like many agribusiness companies, Goldtree is heavily dependent on its outgrowers, and seeks to source quality agriculture produce and manage procurement efficiently to sustain profits. Goldtree decided to use ICT and data management to track its supply chain operations, which is critical to cost-effectiveness and easy identification of systemic trends and problem areas. This can also lead to timely identification of risks and risk management solutions and also identification of opportunities for improved growth. However, to date, the outgrower department has struggled to collect and manage data in an efficient manner.
According to Mathias Vansteenkiste, Goldtree’s ICS Manager, SourceTrace was chosen because of the range of services, and specifically for its organic certification modules and loan processing modules available. “Since the start of the programme, the certification department was able to map, inspect and certify 6,500 farmers with a total of 10,000 hectares. The plan is to certify 9,000 farmers, digitize the whole FFB (Fresh Fruit Buying) purchase and return all the cash and seedlings loans that were granted before”, he says.
Vansteennkiste believes that SourceTrace’s software applications enabled them to monitor field staff and map the farms more effectively. It was also easier for them to retrieve loans when they had soft copies of all transactions. There were still some challenges to be faced though, as field staff had to become accustomed to the new software and Internet speed was sometimes slow, which made synchronizing data difficult. Despite these challenges, the gains were tangible for the farmers in terms of their livelihoods. The farmers undoubtedly benefited from the organic premium on their oil. Meanwhile, Goldtree could easily track seedling and cash loans and farmers received a land-use map, which was generated using the “farm registration” module. SourceTrace’s DATAGREEN platform also provided Goldtree with a fully-digitized system, which was easy to monitor.
“The monitoring of field staff, the efficiency of the mappings, the ease of retrieving loans on soft copy, have all become efficient. We now have a fully digitised system with total ease of monitoring”, says Mathias Vansteenkiste, ICS Manager at Goldtree.
The certified oil palm farmers are now paid 10% more per kilo of palm fruit compared to the rates prior to certification. This has enabled them to improve their incomes and standard of living.
On a lighter note, Vansteenkiste adds that whenever the farmers come to Goldtree office to deliver their fruit, they always ask if they can see their photo on the web module!
The production of palm oil is here to stay and SourceTrace is proud to partner with Goldtree, Sierra Leone marking its entry into the sustainable and organic production sector. Through using digital solutions in mapping and monitoring, SourceTrace is supporting the livelihoods of farmers in one of Africa’s poorest countries while ensuring its rich biodiversity continues to thrive.
Today, at SourceTrace we’re happy to share our moment of pride and fulfillment, having made it as the cover story in the Food and Beverage Tech Review.
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