Sime Darby Plantation Liberia (SDPL) has made a major breakthrough in its investment in Liberia as the company breaks ground for the construction of a modern palm oil mill value at about US$10 million in the country. The ground breaking ceremony took place on Wednesday July 16 at the company’s plantation in Garwula District, Grand Cape Mount County. If completed, the palm oil mill will be the Malaysian company’s first-ever palm mill in Africa.
According to Sime Darby officials, the mill will be completed in 2015 and will have the capacity to produce 60 metric tons of fresh fruit branches of oil palm per hour. Liberia’s Internal Affairs Minister Morris Dukuly joined Deputy Agriculture Minister Paul Jallah and Grand Cape Mount County Senator Abel Massalay for the ground breaking ceremony.
Also present at the ceremony was Grand Cape Mount County Superintendent Imam Mohammed Paassewe, Deputy National Traditional Council chief Sekou Balloh and Garwula District Representative Marbu Sonii, amongst others.
In his remarks, Internal Affairs Minister Morris Dukuly said the palm oil mill represents the wishes and aspirations of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.
“This palm oil mill represents what President Sirleaf has consistently wished for–that concession companies must begin the process of adding values to production. Sime Darby will not just be shipping oil, but the company will produce other finished products locally,” he said.
Minister Dukuly described the oil mill as a good investment because, according to him, it will create additional jobs which would make the Liberian economy stronger and subsequently create better living condition for its people.
“I am very much glad and excited to participate in this historic event. This is a great step forward for not only Sime Darby as a company, but for the government and people of Liberia, particularly, the people of Grand Cape Mount County,” said Imam Mohammed Paassewe, Superintendent of Grand Cape Mount County.
“I want to use this medium to appeal to the other counties that are part of the Sime Darby agreement to open up and give the company a chance to expand as we are doing in Grand Cape Mount County.”
In an exclusive interview with our business desk after the ceremony, Imam Paassewe said it is in the best interest of the people to accept Sime Darby as the company’s investment is crucial to the development of their counties and country. “We must be patient and engage the company positively because this pays a lot.”
Imam Paassewe hinted that Grand Cape Mount County is enjoying the benefit of the construction underway because of the ‘positive’ engagements between the company and citizens of the county.
“Our positive engagement with Sime Darby served as encouragement for the company to decide to construct the oil palm mill in Garwula District,” said the Superintendent.
Grand Cape Mount County Senator Abel Massallay thanked Sime Darby Management for the bold step to begin constructing the palm oil mill and said he is very impressed.
“This is what we have long envisaged because there were lots of misconceptions from the beginning of the Sime Darby concession. People had the belief that we [politicians] gave this land to Sime Darby on a free of charge basis and that there was no benefit that would be accrued for our people in the counties,” he said.
Senator Massallay explained that there was also a notion that the mill would have been constructed in Ghana.
“But thank God that we all have come here today to witness the groundbreaking ceremony for the construction of this palm oil mill in Liberia.”
Sen. Massallay: “We are of the view that our people will get enormous benefit from the construction of this oil mill and therefore urge them to cooperate as the company takes on this venture.”
For his part, Garwula District Representative Marbu Sonii said he is happy that development is taking place in his district during his tenure.
“It is not easy to carry out development especially in this part of the country,” he said. The Grand Cape Mount County legislator recounted how misconceptions about Sime Darby nearly eluded the company’s chances of investing in western Liberia.
“There were misconceptions about Sime Darby from the beginning, but we managed it and now we are about to enjoy,” Rep. Sonii stated.
Rep. Sonii, who was one of the critical voices at the time, admitted that some of the bad things that were said about Sime Darby in the past which created suspicion in the minds of the people are now proven to be false.
“All we say to our people is to remain calm and accept Sime Darby because this company is here to help us develop our country,” Rep. Sonii added.
For his part, Deputy Agriculture Minister Mr. Paul Jallah, who made remarks on behalf of Agriculture Minister Dr. Florence Chenoweth, recorded how challenging it was to convince the locals to allow Sime Darby to commence operations in 2010.
“It wasn’t easy at that time,” he said. “But I thank everyone that helped to make things happen.”
Mr. Jallah thanked Sime Darby for the progress and expressed the hope that the company will soon begin to add value to its oil palm product.
“All of us are proud of this oil mill today,” Jallah said. “But it is your endurance and willingness that led you to achieving this breakthrough to build the palm oil mill.”
The Deputy Agriculture Minister, on behalf of Dr. Chenoweth, expressed his gratitude to Sime Darby for the achievement.
Earlier, SDPL Deputy General Manager Rosli Mohammed Taib presented a token of appreciation to the community hosting the palm oil mill and assured them that the mill will create great opportunity for their community.
According to Mr. Taib, Sime Darby will build palm oil mill for every 15,000 to 20,000 hectares of land planted.
He disclosed plans by Sime Darby to build about 9 palm oil mills on 150,000 hectares of land planted for the initial 24 years of operations.
Mr. Taib used the occasion to thank the government and people of Liberia for the support and praised residents of the project affected communities for their understanding and cooperation with Sime Darby.
In 2009, the government of Liberia signed a concession agreement with Sime Darby and awarded about 220,000 hectares of land to the Malaysian oil palm giant to plant oil palm in Grand Cape Mount, Bomi and Gbarpolu counties.
But the company and the locals had disagreement over land ownership with the latter refusing to release their land thereby slowing commencement of operations.
Breakthrough recorded between the company and the locals has now enabled Sime Darby to plant over 12,000 hectares of land with several communities now willing to release their land. The Sime Darby agreement has a lifespan of about 63 years.