Malaysian oil palm company Sime Darby Plantation Incorporated in Western Liberia is under increasing pressure to expand its operations as citizens of Bomi and Grand Cape Mount counties seem impatience with calls for expansion to their areas to create desperately needed job opportunities.
The company has a 63-year concession agreement with the Government of Liberia about 220,000 hactares of land in four counties: Grand Cape Mount, Bomi, Gbarpolu and Bong, respectively.
Already, it has cultivated about 10,000 hectares in both Grand Cape Mount and Bomi with palm and harvesting is currently in progress, while a US$18m mill is being installed begin processing into finished product.
But in the eyes of villagers, that seems enough. They want the SDPL Management to expand perhaps much sooner than later, and have already allocated land for this purpose. Chief Abdullai Sembeh, 52, is the head of Zodua Town, Garwula District, Grand Cape Mount County. “We are appealing to government and the international community to allow the company to come to our area; we need development. The health facility is bad”, Chief Sembeh said in an interview with a team of journalists that visited the district over the weekend.
He said land has identified for the company, saying, “We ourselves have more land for Sime Darby; we have land that extends to David Town.” The women leader for Zodua Town, Madam Jenneh Moore, confirmed the comments made by the chief, noting that “We agreed as a people to give the land to Sime Darby. We don’t have safe drinking water and Sime Darby gave us few pumps. No health facility here; we have to carry pregnant women from here to Sinje for delivery and medication.”
Zodua is a remote town with rundown mudbrick houses and a population of over 10,000 – predominantly Muslims, and many of them are youth. “I myself here, I’m a high school graduate. We are many here but those of us who went to school want opportunities to advance ourselves”, said Melvin Dasamah, Youth Leader.
The Sime Darby Management has disclosed that when completed, the mill currently being installed will have the capacity to process about 10 tons of palm head per hour with a monthly quantity of 12,000 barrels.
Meantime, a mini-mill is on hand processing about 6,000 barrels per month, and. Management reveals that a local buyer has already begun to engage the oil for export. Chief Executive Officer Shamaruddia Abu Samah said the plantation is currently cultivating 10,000 hectares of land and looks forward to expanding in the future, if more lands are acquired from the locals.
The people of Zodua are hoping and praying that, that future spoken about, would come much sooner than later to ease some of their woes.
By Jonathan Browne