EN – SOCFIN: The untold story

Driving into Sahn Malen Chiefdom in the Pujehun District, your eyes are bound to focus on the vast land of palm oil plantation that lies miles before you, which had hitherto been a thick forest (over 59 yrs old) begging for development. That is the beautiful scene that greets anyone entering that chiefdom and this transformation took place in less that three years since SOCFIN Agriculture Company (SAC) signed an agro palm oil agreement with the community people after the lease agreement with the Sierra Leone Produce Marketing Board expired in 2011.

Within that short period of time, SAC, had engaged in a lot of activities. The tangible outcome of this intervention will be seen in the next six months, when Sierra Leoneans will witness the start of operations of a US$27m palm oil mill that has been designed to process 60 tons of palm oil fruits per hour.

This is one of the success stories of SOCFIN Agriculture Company.

The state of the art palm oil mill, which is only the second in West Africa – Cameroon being the first – is in its first phase of construction. This phase will focus on 30 tons per hour, and this will be extended in less than two years to 60 tons. According to Engineer (Ing) Sven Van Dan Broucke, head of project Socfin Group, the extraction rate of oil will be around 22% or an oil production rate of 6.6 ton per hour. The mill will also provide its own electricity. Explaining the all encompassing nature of the mill, Van Dan Broucke said, “we have a steam boiler (20 tons per hour steam) that runs on the fibres of the fruits.” The fibre from the fruits will be used as fuel to generate power for the boiler and the steam generated through the turbine will be used to sterilize the whole process. 1.8megawatts of power will be generated through this process but the first phase will only produce 1.2megawatts of electricity.

According to Ing Sven Van Dan Broucke, “we have an oil storage (capacity) of 4,200 tons, along with a kernel storage of 600m also on site”.
He further stated that the empty fruit bunches, “would be brought back to the fields as a natural fertilizer.” In the second phase they will install a kernel crusher that would extract the oil from the kernel. The mill he said provides employment for 300 persons, some of whom would be trained as high level engineers, coupled with the fact that during peak period the mill will run on 24 hours basis. Explaining to Journalist at the site, he disclosed that the foundation for the factory contains 4,000m of concrete, and the construction is being undertaken by the firm SCS, spanning a surface of 70,000m. Ign Sven Van Dan Broucke  said, “we have our own lab, with all latest technology to provide the best quality”, further disclosing that an effluent treatment pawn will be built at the end of this year that would occupy a space of 400m x 80m. He further disclosed that a 6,000 ton oil storage facility will be built at the Queen Elizabeth 11 quay.

A rather confident General Manager, Philip Tonks said, “the overall image of the company is being understood as they have now strengthened their relationship with the communities through the employment of a liaison officer that dialogues with the people. Tonks disclosed, “we have employed around 3,600 people with some 500 on contract”. On the oil palm plantation, he revealed that they “have planted 17,500 acres of palm trees and they are now poised for the expansion in ploughing another 4,000 acres,” in which they are expecting to have their maiden harvest next January. The General Manager maintained that the palm tree seedlings are brought in from Thailand and they are expected to mature within a three-year period, after going through the nursery period.

Speaking on their Corporate Social Responsibility, he proudly pointed out that they have constructed 42kilometers of road from Sahn Malen to Koribondo as well as another 31kilometers within the township, coupled with culvert bridges on the Pujehun highway. He also cited the construction of water wells and boreholes, coupled with medical care in which they have provided one ambulance for Sahn Malen Chiefdom, the expansion of the hospital and the construction of a dwelling house for a resident medical doctor and nurse. Tonks revealed that they have entered into an agreement with the Health Ministry for a doctor to be visiting the chiefdom thrice a week, for which they would provide the necessary logistics, in order to ensure that permanent staff and family have access to free medical care.

Another giant step being undertaken is the construction of a building that would be utilized by Guaranty Trust Bank (GTB) so that staff of SAC and others in the community would be exposed to banking practices. Banking transactions now take place in Pujehun which is some fifteen miles away from Sahn Malen Chiefdom. Another disclosure by Philip Tonks was the company gesture in assisting in the food production of inhabitants in the chiefdom. To achieve this objective they have secured the services of James Pessima to supervise that aspect. According to the later, they cultivated 350 acres of boli land, last year, and now they have ploughed 1,500 acres, spanning over eight chiefdoms, as well as providing seeds and professional advice. This gesture warranted a comment from one of the farmers who said, “I’m really grateful for this gesture which has enabled me to feed my family year round”.

On education, Tonks said, “we are focusing on that aspect because the children makes the country in the future,” he disclosed that they are building accommodation for teachers, as well as providing subsidies for community teachers, and a scholarship scheme to support the less privileged children.  Even the installation of solar lights had helped in the education sector.

Speaking on behalf of the chiefdom people, Chiefdom Speaker Shegbeh Robert Moiguah opined, “my view on SAC is excellent, since the end of the war the chiefdom had not grown, but with the emergence of the company prospects have been bright.” He maintained that things have now taken a different dimension, as after the war the inhabitants were exposed to abject poverty, very bad road conditions, as transport vehicles were unable to ply the route from Pujehun to the township. With SAC operations on course, prosperity awaits the inhabitants of Sahn Malen chiefdom as SOCFIN untold stories unfold.

By Samuel John
Original article: http://awoko.org/2014/02/20/sierra-leone-news-socfin-the-untold-story/