Titus Bye-Thompson, Communications Expert, MAFFS
The Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Food Security Prof. Patrick Monty Jones has todays secured a commitment from Dole Group to commence operations within the shortest possible time in cultivating upwards of 4,000 hectares of Pineapple for a processing and juicing operations near Sumbuya in the Southern Province of Sierra Leone. At a meeting with the General Manager for the group, Minister Monty Jones expressed Government’s commitment to supporting agriculture and agri-business and confirmed that the Cabinet was also interested in the establishment of large scale agro based industries such as their operations in Sierra Leone.
The Managing Director of Dole Tropical Foods, Patrick Blake informed the Minister that their company is a multinational company with operations in Philippines, South East Asia and California in the USA. He confirmed that they are specialist producers for many companies in USA, Canada, China and Greece, producing and buying food crops from Romania, Bulgaria etc. Mr Blake confirmed they would like to establish a plantation for pineapple and a facility for processing the crop in Sierra Leone.
He informed the Minister that they have started preliminary operations in Sierra Leone and have recruited two ex-patriate staff to run their affairs in country. The newly recruited country representative for Sierra Leone is a specialized agriculturist with vast experience of the company’s operations around the World. He outlined to the Minister that despite the fact that the onslaught of Ebola caused their plans to be slightly delayed, they have since restarted their plans and have already undertaken an Environmental Impact Assessment for the areas of operations around the country. He announced to the Minister that blueprint of plant and machinery for their operations in Sierra Leone would be modelled around a similar facility they already operate in Philippines which processes around 3,000 tonnes of fruit per day.
The MD also assured the Minister that they have set in motion plans for a swift start in production and have set up a nursery in Indonesia and Thailand to supply seedlings here. The company intends to bring in around 500 containers of seedlings to jump-start their operations, and since the plant is designed to be scaled up, they expect to be producing a branded Sierra Leonean product that will be marketed in Europe in the shortest time possible. They called on the Minister to assist them in finalizing their investment agreement with Government that would secure operational guarantees for duty and other concessions.
Welcoming the Company MD to Sierra Leone, Prof. Monty Jones confirmed that it was his Ministry that would have the initial responsibility to support the establishment of their plantations here and in regard to the processing and marketing of their products, other line Ministries would be taking the lead. He informed the team about the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Food Security’s commitment to the President’s post Ebola recovery initiatives and on that note, welcomed the group’s announcement that they would be providing upwards of 2,500 jobs in the fields of their plantation and in their factories. The Minister offered to expedite the process for ratifying a final agreement provided there are no substantive material changes that would depart from the obligations on Government in the initial MOU agreement signed with the Company.
The Country representative for Sierra Leone, Mr Alex Rivera, showed the Minister some plans based on their production process and in line with their operations in Philippines with which their operational facilities in Sierra Leone will be based. He announced that as soon as all pre-feasibility studies are completed, they are moving straight on to building their plant and setting up their first plantation once completion of negotiations with the land owners are completed.
Dole Tropical Foods have invested around $1 million in plant and machinery already as a sign of commitment to the operations planned for Sierra Leone. With such a global brand, they anticipate that their operations would provide non-farm income to enhance the livelihoods for a significant number of farm families in the Southern Province as they expect to employ women and girls in their processing plants.