President Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma on Saturday 9th April formally commissioned the largest palm oil production mill built by Socfin Agricultural Company in Sahn Malen Chiefdom, Pujehun District.
In his opening remarks, President Koroma said he was doing the commissioning with two hearts-one that has to do with happiness in commissioning Socfin and the other which has to do with the resentment initially shown by the people of Sahn Malen against the company.
He said Socfin was never a government to government arrangement but rather private sector arrangement with due consultations with the locals. He however expressed delight over the apparent joyful mood of the people of Malen Chiefdom this time round which, he said, has sent a clear message to the world that “We have not only defeated Ebola, but we are now ready for business”.
President Koroma assured the people of Sahn Malen that government will never back Socfin in any attempt to exploit them. “My government is always opened for round table talks if the need arises,” he said, adding that government will never take it kindly this time with NGOs and civil society organizations to present the country in bad light for their selfish interests.
The President admonished the management of Socfin to continue engaging the community to establish a common understanding and at the same time thanked the people of the entire Pujehun District for doing almost everything on their own with the help of the company to successfully defeat Ebola.
Welcoming the President, the General Manager of Socfin, Philip Tonks referred to President Koroma’s tour of their farm site and the commissioning of their production mill as historical. He informed the audience that the Socfin palm oil farm is not just the largest in the country, but also in West Africa, and that the company has invested over US$130 Million, planting 12, 319 hectre of hybrid oil palm trees and building a mill currently with a 30t/hr of Fresh Fruit Bunch capacity and with capacity to increase to 60t/hr.
Mr. Tonks pointed out that the plantation area which is situated in the Malen Chiefdom comprises 12,139Ha of palm oil trees in varying stages of maturity including areas of infrastructure and undeveloped wetland and natural areas. He said the total concession areas is 18,481Ha (45, 647 acres) for which an annual lease payment amounting to Le1, 323,800,000 is paid every year and the company has currently utilized 12, 319Ha. The General Manager disclosed that a total of over Le31 Billion was paid to land owners in compensation for palm oil plantation and also revealed that his company has employed over 2,460 seasonal workers to support plantation operations plus 1,091 permanent workers all totaling 3,551 workers, and most of these workers he said are from the surrounding communities within the company’s operational areas.