Oil palms (Elaeis guineensis) were born thousands of years ago in West African forests. Today, Guinea Bissau is still home to many wild palms that produce a red oil widely used for traditional recipes.
Local communities continue harvesting the large bunches of berries and hand-crafting them to produce a dense orange oil with scents of tomato, fruit and spices. The delicious oil is very nutritious, containing both carotenoids and vitamin E. Traditionally, men pick fruits while women are in charge of the long and laborious treatment procedure.
Although the technique varies slightly by region and ethnic group (eg Balanta or Manjaca), a number of steps are essential to obtain a high-quality product. The clusters harvested are first left for a few days, covered with banana leaves, until they soften and the fruits are easier to remove. The fruits are then dried in the sun for one or two days before being boiled in a cauldron of water.
Then, the women begin the long and laborious manual operation of separating the grains from the fruit pulp. The hot and cold water is then added alternately to the pulp to facilitate the extraction of the oil, and the women begin to squeeze the pulp with their hands. When the oil rises to the surface, they collect it and separate it from the water. This process is repeated many times.
Palm oil and fresh palm fruit are essential ingredients of traditional cooking, cooked with meat, fish, vegetables or rice.
International demand for palm oil, easy to produce and profitable, has increased during the industrial revolution. Far Eastern countries began to invest in this product from the end of the nineteenth century, and by 1966 Malaysia and Indonesia had exceeded total palm oil production in Africa. The two Asian countries remain the world’s leading producers, controlling 90% of world production with production of more than 45 million tons. Over the last 20 years, the area under palm oil has tripled and millions of hectares have been deforested to make way for intensive monocultures.
The refined, bleached and deodorized palm oil used in many foods used in industrial production is nothing like the thick, fragrant sauce used for cooking fish and vegetables in Guinea-Bissau.
The Presidium was created in 2011 and started working with a cooperative in the north of the country. But the goal is to extend it to other parts of the country, promoting artisanal palm oil from Guinea-Bissau at international and national level. The oil, made only from oil palm dura, is produced in perfect harmony with the environment and helps protect the forests and the local culture.