When news broke last Thursday that the Asian Oil Palm giant Golden Veroleum Liberia had signed a US$20.984M contract for the construction of its Oil Palm Mill in Sinoe County, the south-eastern region shook awakening to the dawning of a new era in the agriculture sector of post-war Liberia.
Both citizens inclusive of over-gowned palm trees could be seen through an imaginary microscopic lens waving their branches in gratitude as the company approaches its production stage, though it faces mounting challenges ranging from land to human capital. Being ushered in on the eve of Liberia’s Ebola freedom, the duo news presented a stage for a double celebration, especially when not a single case was reported on the company’s facilities during the 142 days of national tragedy.
In other words, the date is set, the stage is ready and the audience is waiting as the country dooms in witnessing for the first time one of Africa’s advanced Oil Palm Mill facilities ever to be constructed. In 2008, the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation (IFC), presented to the government findings of a study that reviewed the country’s oil palm sector, assessing its competitiveness and identifying potential investment opportunities.
A press release at the time quoted IFC resident representative Jumoke Jagun as saying that the sector has potential “to attract significant private investment, and to be a key driver of inclusive growth, development and job creation for the country.” An important event in this process of creating enabling conditions for the expansion of oil palm plantations was a two-day workshop held in Monrovia in January 2010, whose aim was to link key oil palm industry stakeholders and draw a master plan for Liberia’s oil palm industry. The workshop was organized by the Ministry of Agriculture in collaboration with Mercy Corps, Sustainable Tree Crops Program (STCP) and Winrock International, and was sponsored by USAID, USDA and the Oil Palm Association of Liberia (OPAL).
Prior to said finding, in early 2009, when GVL first set its boots on the Liberian soil, it had already made a commitment to the post-war state to provide 35,000 to 40,000 jobs opportunities to Liberians specifically in the South East of Liberia- a region vastly poverty stricken due to the crisis. To date, the company has currently 3,782 employees bulk of whom are Liberians and mostly youth.
While this number continues to increase daily, hundreds of Liberians continue to benefit through local and international scholarship opportunities in the agro sector. With these opportunities remain on the wall couple with over 11,000 hectares of land currently being developed at the moment in oil palm, one can safely say that the construction of said mill will boost development in the South East.
With a population of over 200, 00 citizens in Sinoe, the mill obviously is a prosperity visa for Liberians in that part of the country whose quest is to develop one million tons of palm oil per annum during full operation. The Mill with an anticipated processing speed of over 70 to 80 metro-tonne per hour, the South East which consist of Maryland, Grand Gedeh, Sinoe, River-Gee and Grand Kru County will play host to a processing capability, which in essence means that there would be products made in Liberia by Liberians, the company has promised.
Their lead in constructing a mill following the country’s Ebola devastation is one that deserves commendation and presents a wake-up call for other foreign oil palm companies in the country which control over 830,187 hectares of land in a country such as Liberia.
Although new to Liberia, research has shown that throughout history palm oil has served as the primary source of dietary fat for countless numbers of people. Its nutritional and healing properties have been recognized for generations. Until modern medicine arrived, red palm oil was the remedy of choice for nearly every illness in many parts of Africa. When someone was sick, downing a cup full of palm oil was common. Even today, many people in villages rely on this age old method of treatment. Palm oil is regarded among many as essential in the diet for pregnant and nursing women in order to assure good health for the mother and child.
In Liberia, a oil palm tree is native to large parts of Liberia, where the climate provides the hottest and tropical conditions under which the palm tree flourishes. The interior is heavily forested and has hills and mountains reaching 1,380 m of elevation. These hilly areas are very suitable for some economic trees and tree crops, as well as for agro-forestry practices. In fact, the interior areas have a long tradition of cultivating oil palm.
Half of Liberia’s palm oil is produced by 220,000 women and men on small farms, harvested from forests where it grows abundantly, research shows. However, it is mostly the women who carry out the task of processing the oil palm fruit into red palm oil, using traditional methods. Howbeit, this method is on the brink of retirement come 2016 with GVL breaking said traditional chain through the construction of said oil palm mill.
The company noted in a statement released last week that the project will employ several hundred Liberians during the construction period and approximately 150 Liberians in industrial processing when in full operation. With Malaysia-based Modipalm Engineering Sdn Bhd, leading construction works in Tarjuowon and Greenville Bulking Station, it promises to process fresh fruit bunches, also known as FFB, typically within 24 hours of harvesting. Bragging with its newly trained first batch of Liberian engineers from Indonesia, trained specifically in oil palm mill engineering, the company is poised to help run the county’s agriculture engine though challenges rest ahead.
With a current workforce of 65 Liberians in various management positions, the mill and bulking station will ultimately increase that number and boom economic activities in Sinoe County as Liberia recovers from its nightmare of Ebola devastation. Indeed, GVL Mill construction is welcoming news for all to which all well-meaning Liberians must be embraced.