LIBREVILLE, Gabon– Despite being one of Africa’s richest countries, widespread income disparities have prevented Gabon from successfully combating extreme poverty. Recently, however, palm oil production in Gabon has brought the opportunity for the country to diversify its economy, and for the first time in the nation’s history, take meaningful steps towards eliminating extreme poverty and accelerating development.
Small and densely forested, Gabon is home to nearly 2 million people and is among the richest countries in Africa. Yet despite this prosperity, Gabon continues to be one of Africa’s more unequal countries with one-third of its population living below the poverty line.
Much of Gabon’s wealth has come from a thriving oil industry. In 2015 alone, oil accounted for 70 percent of the country’s exports and upwards of 20 percent of Gabon’s GDP.
Caught in the plight of many small, natural resource rich nations, however, wealth has historically been concentrated among a select few with the rest of the country struggling to keep up. Further, though the oil industry is the primary source of income for Gabon, the oil industry itself only provides five percent of the country’s jobs.
As oil prices have plummeted and production has slowed, matters have only gotten worse. The unemployment rate has soared to 20 percent and many now struggle to earn a sufficient income.
New investment in palm oil production in Gabon, however, is seeking to change these circumstances.
Recently, Gabon President Ali Bongo Ondimba signed US$4.5 billion worth of deals with three Asian companies to begin palm oil production. The hope is that this new avenue of production will improve the diversity of Gabon’s markets and provide desperately needed jobs – particularly in rural areas.
The Singapore-based manufacturer, Olam International has already partnered with the Gabonese government to develop more than 240,000 acres of palm oil plantations. The agreement includes more than US$500 million in investments by the company which are expected to directly benefit many in Gabon by boosting the economy.
Olam has also begun to offer many training courses for Gabonese farmers to help them transitions to palm oil production. This presents an exciting opportunity for many, as much of Gabon remains unskilled and under trained. The training will help farmers to more efficiently and effectively produce crops, leading to better incomes and an improved standard of living.
With recent investments and enthusiasm for palm oil production in Gabon, the country is now expected to become a key African palm oil producer and exporter by 2025.
Positive results appear to be coming from Gabon’s commitment to diversifying its economy, and finding viable solutions to eliminating the severe economic disparities that the country faces. Palm oil production in Gabon presents a promising avenue that should continue to be invested in to lift the many still living in poverty in the country out of their current situation and put the country on course towards economic equality and overall development.
– Sara Christensen