Sierra Leone is one of the least developed countries in the world, with high illiteracy and unemployment rates and few opportunities for economic development. During the civil war, most of the palm oil mills were destroyed, and farmers had to turn to manual processing. Manual processing of palm fruit, which is still common practice in Sierra Leone, has very low quantity of oil production, creates negative impact on the environment, and requires hard labour.
Years of civil conflict and the Ebola outbreak in 2014-2015 have had a severe impact on all levels of the society and the economy. Still, in the heart of Sierra Leone, in Gbonkolenken Chiefdom, Tonkolili District, there is a vibrant little town called Yele. Where the majority of villages in Sierra Leone rely solely on subsistence farming, Yele is the hometown of Nedoil, one of the two palm oil operations of Planting Naturals in Sierra Leone, linking this small town to the global marketplace.
HOW NEDOIL’S STORY STARTED
NedOil was established by the Lion Heart Foundation and started operations in 2008, with a small nucleus plantation, a palm oil mill and a nursery to grow a better yielding hybrid palm. From its inception, NedOil was built with an inclusive mindset. It was originally set up with the objective to generate funds to cover the operational costs of the local hospital in Tonkolili District, also set up by the Lion Heart Foundation. Additionally, this model provided direct and indirect employment and thus income for the communities in and around Yele. With the local communities already growing oil palm on small plantations, it made sense to set up a mill and buy palm fruit directly from the local farmers. After operating NedOil for a few years, it was not generating the necessary funds to support the hospital. In order to keep it a viable operation and ensure continuity, Lion Heart Foundation had to find an investor for NedOil. In 2014, NHSL acquired full ownership of NedOil.
What has been achieved so far
To date, NedOil operates an organic palm oil mill which sources palm fruit from its independent smallholder network, which includes 2,141 farmers across Tonkolili District. The farmers are certified with the EU organic standard.
Furthermore, NedOil provides permanent work for 50 employees, most of whom are from Yele town. In 2019, approximately one third of the crude palm oil was sold on the local market and two thirds was exported to Rotterdam in the Netherlands, for further processing and sale.
NEDOIL’S INCLUSIVE MODEL
Smallholders receive continuous training and education on organic palm growing practices. This is done with a combination of a ‘top-down’ extension of technical information, and knowledge transfer using a ‘bottom up’ farmer field school approach, focusing on participatory, experiential, and reflective learning to improve problem-solving capacities through highly trained facilitators working with farmer groups. Awareness raising and training have been provided on multiple topics, including land tenure and legitimisation of land rights, good agricultural practices, organic principles, health and safety, gender equality, environmental protection and social responsibility.
In 2018, Nedoil and Solidaridad developed locally recognised land tenure titles for all farmers in the organic network within the Legend project. An important step considering the local lack of formal procedures to prove land tenure rights.
NedOil provides employment and training to 50 permanent workers, with additional temporary labour from Yele in peak periods, and women hired to pick the fruit from the fresh fruit bunches from the nucleus plantations. The focus is to hire and employ locally and promote employees as much as possible from within. As an example, Mohamed Kamara, NedOil general manager, started as plantation manager at NHSL in Makpele Chiefdom, and the current production assistant Santigie Sesay will soon take the rank of production manager.
Nedoil has an ambitious goal of becoming the first palm oil company in Sierra Leone to be certified with RSPO and Chinese organic standards. Achieving this goal will bring many positive improvements to the operational processes and will allow smallholder farmers to enter the global market for sustainable palm oil. Nedoil’s team is ready to take on this exciting challenge and bring about even more positive impact to the farmers and surrounding communities.
It should be noted that at this time, the Nedoil mill is currently not under operation, and therefore the FFBs that we receive from the smallholders in this region are no longer being processed at Nedoil’s mill. The mill is now acting as an excess capacity facility for the storage of FFBs. Instead of being processed on-site at Nedoil, the fruit received here is now being transported to our other operations in the country – Goldtree S.L. Ltd. – where the fruits are processed into our oil palm products.