After visiting Socfin’s LAC plantation in Liberia in 2009, Sierra Leone’s Ministry of Agriculture decided to call on the Socfin Group to develop a project in Sierra Leone.
Slash-and-burn cultivation is a tradition in Sierra Leone. However, it requires suitable land rotation in order to avoid soil depletion. Unfortunately, the needs of the ever-growing population no longer allows for proper crop rotation. As a result, Sierra Leone experiences progressive soil degradation. This loss of soil productivity makes Sierra Leone increasingly dependent on imports of basic commodities.
When the Ministry of Agriculture appealed to the Socfin Group several years ago, it aimed to reduce its dependence on imports and modernize the country’s agricultural practices.
The partners mutually agreed on a suitable site and an inclusive bottom-up consultation process with all relevant stakeholders: growers, landowners, traditional chiefs, community leaders etc. After receiving the formal consent from the majority of the population, an area of 18 443 hectares was identified for the project, of which only 12 500 hectares would be planted.
It was agreed from the start; certain plots of land surrounding the villages and existing dwellings would be maintained to enable landowners who did not wish to be involved in the project to keep their land.
Once Socfin established its subsidiary Socfin Agricultural Company (SL) Limited (SAC), agricultural operations started in 2011 by developing a nursery and gradual planting of 12 349 hectares of oil palm plantations. In 2015 the oil mill was constructed and further expanded in 2021 to a 60 T/h palm oil mill, making it one of the biggest palm oil mills in Africa. Currently, the plantation is the main palm oil producer on the domestic market and one of the country’s biggest employers.
The cooperation between the government and the Socfin Group enables the introduction of new agricultural techniques on Sierra Leonean soil, and thereby facilitates the implementation of a soil fertilization program. This includes, for instance, the introduction of cover crops on depleted soils, a fertigation project and agricultural capacity building.
SAC has only developed 67% of its concession because it wishes to maintain and protect High Conservation Value (HCV) areas.
With SAC's presence, services such as water provision, medical, educational and road infrastructure are nowadays available and have improved.
In other words, SAC is committed to producing palm oil in a way that allows for long-term socio-economic development of the Malen Chiefdom in Sierra Leone by improving communities' quality of life and protecting the environment in and around its plantation.
Recently, SAC has invested heavily in health prevention and education campaigns for the local population, who was hit by the Ebola plague. This helped to contain the spread of the disease in the project area. The Pujehun district was the country’s first region to be declared “Ebola Free”.