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 allow for proper crop rotation. As a result, the country experiences progressive soil degradation. This loss of soil productivity makes Sierra Leone increasingly dependent on imports of basic commodities.
When it appealed to the Socfin Group several years ago, the Ministry of Agriculture aimed at reducing this dependence and modernizing the country’s agricultural techniques.
The partners mutually agreed on a suitable site and a bottom-up consultation process initiated with all stakeholders: growers, landowners, traditional chiefs, community leaders etc. After receiving the formal consent from the majority of the population, an area of 18 000 hectares was identified for the project, of which only 12 500 hectares would be planted.
From the start, an agreement was concluded: certain plots of land surrounding the villages and existing dwellings would be maintained to enable landowners who do not wish to be involved in the project to keep their land.
Once the project was in place, agricultural works started in 2011: nursery development and gradual replanting of 12 500 hectares of palm plantations. In 2015 the oil mill was constructed. Ultimately, the plantation will be the main palm oil supplier 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 hereby facilitates the implementation of a soil fertilization program. This includes, for instance, the introduction of cover crops on depleted soils and agricultural capacity building.
SAC has only developed 60% of its concession because it wishes to preserve the wetlands – which most likely have significant flora – in order to create high conservation value areas.
In other words, the development has a positive impact in the region, where a local economic fabric was created. Public services such as water provision, medical, educational and road infrastructure are nowadays available and have improved, particularly thanks to SAC’s support.
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”.