What follows is a brief description of the oil palm issue in Ghana. After reading it, we invite you to send us comments.
Oil palm in Ghana
Plantations were not very much favoured by the dominant British colonial administration in Ghana. Interestingly enough, “This was partly because of the fear that, by dispossessing the owners of their land, the extensive land acquisitions necessary for the plantations would alienate the peasants, seriously disrupt their export production system, and precipitate local opposition of the kind provoked by the abortive Crown Lands Bill of 1894 and the Land Bill of 1897, which sought to vest in the British Crown all “waste” or unoccupied lands, forest lands, and minerals.”
Even more interestingly, “Another reason was the conviction among British government advisers that the indigenous small-scale peasant farming system was more resilient economically than the exotic large plantations. Furthermore, the peasant system was considered to be a tried and inexpensive method of producing tropical export crops.”
As a result, “plantations did not make much impact on the environment and agricultural production during the colonial era in Ghana.” In fact, palm oil production based on small-scale peasant production in an oil-palm belt near the littoral, was a leading foreign exchange earner for Ghana from about the mid-nineteenth century to the beginnings of the twentieth century.
Things changed after 1957, during the post-independence period, when there was a policy change involving greater emphasis on the plantation system centred on oil-palm and rubber. The policy change, up to the time of the 1966 military coup d’etat, favoured state-owned and state-operated plantations.
However, mainly because of capital constraints, political interference, poor planning, mismanagement, and the rigidity of the centralized state control system, these state-owned farms did not prove economically viable. They succeeded only in worsening rural living conditions by dispossessing the peasants of their most fundamental natural resource, the land, with little or no compensation and by the deforestation and other forms of ecological and economic disturbance associated with the removal of natural vegetation to make room for monocultural plantations. Subsequently, some of the state plantations were sold. Others were abandoned, sometimes after felling of the palms, a practice that invariably left behind derived savanna or even grass in place of the original forest cover. Attempts were made to reorganize the remaining plantations into viable economic units under decentralized state control.
On the whole, however, the new policy, especially after the 1981 coup d’etat and the subsequent liberalization of the economic system, has sought to promote plantations through private enterprise, foreign-aided government ventures, and joint government-private projects. The resultant plantations include the three major ones established by the government-owned but foreign-assisted Ghana Oil Palm Development Co. (GOPDC) located around Kwae; the government/privately owned Twifo Oil Palm Plantations Ltd. (TOPP) located around Twifo Praso/Ntafrewaso; and the government/privately owed Benso Oil Palm Plantations Ltd. (BOPP) located around Benso/Adum Banso.
The three major new palm plantations (GOPDC, TOPP, and BOPP), have been established on land compulsorily acquired from peasants by the government in the humid tropical environment of the interior. In addition to developing the acquired areas into palm plantations, the companies involved were to encourage palm fruit production among the peasants in the plantation hinterland through the nuclear or nucleus estate system to help sustain their huge palm-oil-processing mills located inside the plantations.
Since about 1977, when they started, the three plantations have developed rapidly and contributed significantly towards the expansion of Ghana’s oil-palm hectares from 18,000 to 103,000 between 1970 and 1990. This growth of 24 per cent per annum has resulted in the re-emergence of the palm as a major commercial crop rivaling cocoa; has served as a basis for the fast-developing palm oil and other agro-industrial processing industries; and rendered the country more than self-sufficient in palm-oil production. 
According to the FAO, oil palm plantations covered 304,000 hectares in 2002,  while a Europaid document describes the situation as follows: “In 2004, around 285,000 ha of oil palm was cultivated. Smallholders cultivated nearly 88% of the total area under production but produced only 72% of the oil palm fresh fruit bunch (FFB). The remaining 28% was produced by the private estates cultivating less than 12% of the total area. The existing plantations operate on the basis of a nucleus estate with associated smallholder schemes and independent out-growers. The out-growers own and cultivate oil palm on their land, receive planting material and other inputs and technical advice from the companies (usually on credit) to whom they are contractually obliged to sell their production.” 
The main companies are now mostly foreign:
2) In the Twifo Oil Palm Plantation Limited (TOPP) the major shareholders are Unilever and the government of Ghana. The Estate is situated at Twifo Ntafrewaso/Twifo Mampong area. TOPP is one of the largest producers of palm oil in Ghana.
4) Norwegian Palm Ghana Limited (NORPALM), based at Prestea in the Ahanta West District of the Western Region. In 2000 this company took over the plantation from the former National Oil Palm Limited. 
It is interesting to note that outside industrial plantation schemes, traditional processing of palm fruit is still carried out manually by women at the village level. What follows is the description of a palm oil processing operation in Christian village, near Accra:
“All operations are carried out by women. Palm fruits are purchased from the local market. The fruits are boiled in water for about 2 hours and then transferred to a large pit dug in the ground containing water. The pit is about 2 ft deep and 5 ft in diameter. A woman enters the pit and treads on the fruits, liberating palm oil which floats to the surface of the water. Handfuls of fruit are then collected from the bottom of the pit and wrung out by hand on to the surface of the water. When all the fruits have been collected from the pit and wrung out, the oil is scooped off the top and collected. The oil is boiled to remove water traces and is then ready for use. The woman stays in the pit to receive the next batch of palm fruits to be processed. The palm nuts are separated from the palm fibre by hand and are sold in the local market. The fibre is dried and used as fuel. About 240 litres of clarified oil can be produced in two days. The oil is either used by operators or sold locally. The women operators state that oil processed in this way tastes better and sells more easily than that produced by mechanized processes. Two people are employed full time for two days on this process.” 
Industrial oil palm production is again being promoted by government, with support from international actors. The process was apparently restarted during President Kufuor’s government (2001-2009) who, according to the media, “targeted 300,000 hectares of oil palm in the next few years, and is seriously encouraging the nursing of the right seedlings for a major take-off this year.” 
The World Bank’s International Finance Corporation (IFC) says it “engaged extensively throughout the supply chain in the palm oil sector, with investments in plantations”. In Ghana, IFC investments amounted to US$ 12.5 million in 2007. 
More recently (2010), the media has informed about a “new global strategy … being developed by experts from the World Bank Group and International Finance Corporation (IFC). The strategy, to be ready in September 2010, is expected to quick-start a multi-million dollar oil palm programme for policymakers and government and will focus on access to financing, certification, land-use policy, technology transfer, and infrastructure development from the farm to the port, as well as pricing mechanism and marketing.” 
EuropeAid –whose mission is to implement the European Commission’s external aid instruments- is also active on this issue and has called for a consultancy to carry out “Feasibility Studies and Plans for Establishment of Palm Oil Mills in Ghana.” The consultancy “will inform the formulation of further any support required from Government, including the mobilisation of adequate domestic and foreign investment from the private sector into the establishment of Palm Oil mills and related industries.”
The EuropAid document mentions the “renewed global interest and demand in the crop in recent years” as a biofuel and mentions, as an example, “the European Union’s target of reducing green house emission by 20% by the year 2020 (partly through demanding that 10% of automobiles use bio-fuels)” that “could lead to a surge in demand.” 
The same document informs that the government intends “to develop 10,000 hectares of plantations in the short-term and in the medium term over 100,000 hectares to support primary processing and the manufacture and marketing of valued added products from palm and palm kernel oils. Over the long-term, it is estimated that 300,000 hectares of oil palm plantation would have developed and an oleo-chemical industry emerged.” 
 All the above is based on Edwin A. Gyasi’s “The environmental impact and sustainability of plantations in Sub-Saharan Africa: Ghana’s experiences with oil-palm plantations”