The Malaysian oil palm company Sime Darby Plantation Liberia Incorporated or SDPL, looks forward to harvesting its first crude palm oil here by September, 2015.
Chief Engineer Shamaruddin Abu Sarach said the mills installation for processing of palm oil begins in April this year, and may be completed in 20 months with each mill targeting 15 hectares of land.
The company has a 63-year lease agreement with the Government of Liberia to cultivate over 300,000 hectares or 760,000 acres of land otherwise referred to as the Gross Concession Area.
The Head of Region for Sime Darby Plantation Upstream Project Roslim Azmy Hassan, said of the total amount of hectares needed for its operations, a little over 10,000 have been plowed so far.
Land access seems to be a challenge to its expansion quest as local residents sometimes become hesitant to give up their land to concessions, which is their only inheritance. Between 2010 and 2011 the company encountered resistance from local communities, who argued that they had not been consulted.
But all seems to have changed considerably after meetings of multi-stakeholders, including community dwellers, non-government organizations, the Government of Liberia and the Sime Darby management in an effort to allay all fears and let the citizens know what lies ahead of them in a multi-million dollars investment that promises 35,000 employment opportunities.
Addressing a team of reporters over the weekend, Friday, 31 January at one of the plantation sites in Bomi County just before leading journalists on a tour, Head of Region Hassan said all of the land that the communities previously withheld, has been turned over to the company without any coercion.
“If you do bad, you will reap it, if you do good, you will reap it; people have begun to see the good work of Sime Darby. We have a very good relationship with the people, the government and the Land Commission of Liberia”, he said.
Hassan added that in expectation of next year’s harvest, management is engaging the National Port Authority, particularly the Freeport of Monrovia to identify an area inside the port to station its buckets where the finished products will be stored for shipment abroad.
In fulfillment of its social responsibility to locals, the company provides free health services and free education. A 15-bedroom health center runs by SDPL caters to over 2,000 patients daily, including pregnant women, mothers and newborn babies. Officer-In-Charge Samuel T. Moore said with three qualified midwives, about 22 babies are being delivered there monthly with mortality rate falling from nine to two.
At the Liberia Intensive Group Training Center, nine university graduates in agriculture discipline are being trained in plantation operation and management by the company with the assurance of immediate employment after completion of training. “My colleagues, we should study hard because there is a future for us”, said student Cooper A. Dennis.
SDPL is also constructing four modern estates, including the Matabo Estate, Bomi Estate, Cape Mount Estate and Lofa Estate for its employees as it expands the plantation.
The Matabo Estate has a total of 194 apartments with accommodate for 380 employees, according to Estate Manager Sam D. Karnwhine. Head of Region Hassan put the cost for the estate at US$2.2 million.