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Nigerian company Saroafrica aims to become one of the largest plantation companies in Africa, but communities are resisting its land grabs


GRAIN | 31 October 2023

Nigerian company Saroafrica aims to become one of the largest plantation companies in Africa, but communities are resisting its land grabs

Saroafrica International is a Nigerian conglomerate owned by local businessman Olakanmi Rasheed Sarumi and his family. Its focus is on agriculture, with operations spanning from seeds and agroinputs to plantation farming to processing and exports. 

Saroafrica began investing in large-scale plantations in Nigeria in 2017. These include a deal for a 15,000 ha sugar plantation in Doma and Nasarawa Local Government Areas of Nasarawa State, and a 5,000 ha cassava plantation in Edo State through a joint venture with the Nigerian-based Mohinani Group. Its most significant farm investment is a 10,000 ha oil palm plantation project in Edo State through its subsidiary Saro Oil Palm, which is 90% owned by Sarumi's UK company, Saroafrica Limited. 

The Saro Oil Palm project is part of the Edo State Governor's flagship Edo State Oil Palm Programme (ESOPP), which has allocated 62,000 ha of land to seven companies in the Oriowonhon Local Government area and has received funding from the Central Bank of Nigeria. 

Surami is the lead spokesperson and Chairman of the ESOPP Investors Group, an alliance of companies investing in oil palm plantations under the programme. He is also the Chairman of a company called Esopp Agro Allied Limited, which is a 50:50 joint venture between Saro Oil Palm and another Nigerian agribusiness company, Flour Mills of Nigeria, that got 20,000 ha for an oil palm plantation through ESOPP. 

Surami says ESOPP investors, together with the ESOPP Independent Implementation Office, have "diligently crafted an inclusive and sustainable strategy for getting access to land and prioritising the welfare of local communities." 

"In ESOPP, we carry out the Participatory Boundary Establishment Exercise which means all concessions have been demarcated by understanding with different communities. We also undertake the Participatory Rural Appraisal exercise where we work with the communities to understand their social needs and address them through the development of the concession in partnership with the State Government. Another thing we have done is we have shared with the State Government our community action plans and those activities have direct social impacts on the different communities," boasts Surami.

Yet the community of Evboesi, where Saro's oil palm project is located, has been protesting against the allocation of their lands to the company, affirming it was done without their consent. Local farmers say that the company destroyed their farms and that they lost their crops with little or no compensation. They now have nowhere to farm. 



"We can no longer farm because there is no land for us to farm and get money to send our children to school," said one woman farmer during a protest earlier in January 2023. 

An elder farmer at the same protest said, "They should leave the land. There is no other thing we can rely on to feed our families."

These protests were documented by Independent Television and Radio and on the YouTube channel of the People's Freedom Movement.

But Saroafrica's ambitions for large-scale plantations are rising dramatically. On 31 August 2023, it was reported that the company had acquired 86.7% of the shares of the Belgian company SIAT, one of the largest plantation companies operating in Africa. SIAT has oil palm and rubber plantation concessions in Cambodia, Côte d'Ivoire, Ghana and Nigeria, covering over 140,000 ha, with around 68,000 ha planted. In Nigeria alone, it has over 53,000 ha for oil palm plantations through its subsidiary Presco Plc. 

If the deal with SIAT goes through it will bring Saroafrica into conflict with many more communities. SIAT-affected communities in Ghana, Ivory Coast and Nigeria are determined to fight for their lands and have joined forces with allies in Europe and other parts of Africa to advance their demands.