January 5, 2010
By: Bill E. Diggs
WESTERN LIBERIA – A Malaysia-based multinational entity, which signed an US$847 million concession agreement with the Government of Liberia (GOL) last April to cultivate oil palm and rubber in four counties, finally took over the Guthrie Rubber Plantation last Friday, January 1, 2010.
Sime Darby, which is expected to employ an estimated 22,000 Liberians over the next 10 years, will cultivate roughly 220,000 hectares of land in four counties including Gbarpolu, Bomi, Grand Cape Mount and Bong.
Of the total area provided to the company, 120,000 hectares were originally provided under the terms of the original concession agreement, signed April 30, 2009. An extra 100,000 was further provided to the company in consideration of its commitment to construct and operate a vegetable oil refinery in Liberia.
Under the renegotiated concession agreement, Sime Darby is required to construct one centrally located hospital with basic facilities within 10 years and adequate out-patient clinics in the areas to be developed. Spouses and dependants of the employees and government officials assigned in the concession will benefit from the services.
A Ministry of Agriculture release reaching the Daily Observer Monday said the commencement of the implementation of the agreement will significantly reduce the unemployment rate in the country and create a positive impact on the mitigation of poverty in line with the government’s Poverty Reduction Strategy (PRS).
The company is expected to operate in the country for more than 60 years, during which it will develop 44,000 hectares for out-growers in both oil palm and rubber, thus bringing the total concession area for development to 264,000 hectares.
The agreement provides that the company will build five kindergarten schools, five primary schools and five secondary schools, which will provide free education to each person who is a dependant of an employee.
In an exclusive interview with the Daily Observer yesterday, Minister of Agriculture, Florence A. Chenoweth, disclosed that Sime Darby will be manufacturing its produce in Liberia, establishing 18 oil mills, one vegetable refinery, one kernel crushing plant and one rubber factory.
Asked what mechanisms have been put in place to avoid the usual strikes by former workers of Guthrie Rubber Plantation, Chenoweth said the management of Sime Darby will operate differently from previous interim managements that had been set up on the plantation. She added that the laws of Liberia make provision for any problems that may arise.