Sustainability and Governance of Palm Oil Development in Sub-Saharan Africa: Evidence from Cameroon

Hamann, Steffi
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University of Guelph

This doctoral dissertation contributes to the academic literature on the politics of agrarian change by exploring effects of agro-industrialization processes on rural livelihoods and food security. In the African context, debates about the local impacts of different modes of agricultural production are wrought with controversy. Powerful stakeholders in support of large-scale farming favour economies of scale and private investments as pathways to rural development. Those who are critical of this development orthodoxy emphasize the socio-economic and environmental limits of capital-intensive monoculture plantations. To address these conflicting arguments, this research presents an in-depth study of the Republic of Cameroon. It focuses on the country’s palm oil sector – one of the major drivers of agribusiness investments and agro-industrialization in tropical Africa. The study details the historical evolution and contemporary politics that envelop efforts to govern the sector. It assesses the impacts of different modes of agricultural production through an empirical study, conducted in the oil palm basin of Cameroon’s Sanaga-Maritime Division. The multi-dimensional research design combines the complementary strengths of semi-structured key-informant interviews, focus group discussions, and a comprehensive survey of four hundred households. The comparison and analysis of the livelihoods and food security situation of rural smallholders and salaried workers generate novel insights into local realities within the palm-oil-producing sector. Findings indicate that the average smallholder enjoys a higher standard of living than the average worker in a commercial plantation. Salaried workers are faced with food access challenges, and the majority of plantation employees engages in food cultivation as a coping mechanism to ensure their food security. In light of the research results, this study questions the dominant growth-driven paradigm of agrarian change and discusses governance implications for the sustainable development of the palm oil sector in sub-Saharan Africa.

rural development, palm oil, agro-industrialization, agrarian change, food security, Cameroon