Experts are attending a two-day Africa Sustainable Palm Oil Conference in Accra this week to discuss how to position businesses on the continent to adopt best practices in sustainability.

Organized jointly by Proforest, the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil and Solidaridad, the meeting is also seeking ways to mainstream small producers' ability to access global supply chains.

Speaking at the opening session here Thursday, Ghana's Deputy Minister of Food and Agriculture, Dr Ahmed Yakubu Alhassan, said Africa was producing less palm oil than it consumed and increasing investment in the sector would help provide jobs, improve local economies and reduce rural poverty.

Currently, Africa produces about five per cent of global output of palm oil but consumes at least 10 per cent of this edible oil.

Dr Alhassan said closing the gaps in the sector and producing oil palm sustainably would require concerted efforts from governments, regional bodies, research institutions, private financiers, investors, and technocrats, to ensure the proper understanding and utilization of palm oil.

He said small growers and artisanal millers, who contributed about 80 per cent of Africa's total annual palm oil output, must be repositioned to play their roles in a more sustainable manner so as not to be outplayed in the market.

According to the Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil, smallholders accounted for 70 to 90 per cent of palm oil producers in Africa.

Dr Alhassan said it was important that palm oil refiners, manufacturers and other actors who influenced the sector directly and indirectly came together to find ways of reducing the likely negative impacts and increasing its benefits.

Dr Alhassan said the Ghanaian Cabinet had given approval for the setting up of the Oil Palm Development Board and that the Ministry of Food and Agriculture and the Attorney General would soon work on the modalities as well as legal instruments to ensure the operations of the board.