Did you know we had an oil mill in Sierra Leone?
Work brought me to Pujehun district, in Sierra Leone’s southern province. I currently reside in Gobaru. Gobaru is the headquarters of the Kpanga-Krim chiefdom in Pujehun District. Life in Gobaru, is quiet, with no electricity except from the solar street lights at the roundabout or generators in a few places. On the 4th April,2019 I visited the Paramount Chief Gbonda at Gobaru. During our discussion, he asked if I had visited the oil plantation at Sahn Malen; “Beautiful place” he said. He must have sensed I love exploring or something. Curious as I am, I asked him how far it was and had already started planning a trip in my head.
The next day, after work, I asked a co-worker how much it costs to get to the plantation via Okada (motorcycles used as public transportation) and he offered to take me there. We bargained, settled on a fee, I bought a cap to cover my hair, water and fuel, then started our journey to Sahn Malen.
Sahn is the name of the headquarter town, and Malen is the name of the chiefdom. Sahn Malen is 12 miles from Pujehun town. It is home to an old palm plantation that belonged to the Sierra Leone Produce Marketing Board before SOCFIN Agricultural Company took over.
With the bike going at 40-50 km/hr, we arrived at the mill in about 35 minutes including the few times we slowed down so I could take video snippets and photos. We passed 7 villages on the way; Kepawana, Banga, Kamala, Bekendu, Soso, Gombahun and Jumbu. We got to know the names of the villages by either asking the people there or reading from rusty old sign boards on the way.
The SOCFIN Agricultural Company’s checkpoint was between the towns Gombahun and Jumbu. The palm plantation starts at a checkpoint, occupying over 10,000 hectares of land. It took us 8 minutes to ride from the checkpoint to the town Sahn Malen, 10 minutes from the town to the SOCFIN mill. The town has a hospital, a police station, a fuel station, bank, the quarters for the SOCFIN workers etc.
The SOCFIN mill is impressive. The mill produces crude palm oil and kernel. It’s processing capacity is 30 tons/hr and produces at least 200 tons a day. There is a boiler connected to the steam turbine which produces electricity from waste fibre of the kernel. There is a well equipped lab, and an effluent treatment area. They have recycling bins to sort their waste into 4 categories; paper & food waste, metal, plastic, glass & bottles.
When it comes to processing our agricultural yield and producing on a large scale, we are lacking because of undeveloped infrastructure. So, imagine my excitement when I saw how huge the facility was from the outside.
At the reception I was asked by one of the security personnel if I had an appointment. Disappointment was creeping in slowly, because I didn’t have one. I acted on an impulse. I calmly said “No” and asked if I could speak to the manager or someone to set an appointment. I was asked to wait. After a few minutes a young man came in, dressed in overalls, boots and a hard hat. I started going on about how I heard about the mill and decided to come check it out. He then said, “You look familiar. FBC, Engineering?” #EngineersConnect. Turns out he was my senior in uni and now was the Production Engineer.
My walk-in tour started after precautions were taken for safety of course. Every single stage of the process was explained. I learnt so much!
We then did a 30 mins trip back to Gobaru, Pujehun.
I look forward to the day we have more factories in Sierra Leone and move into an era of manufacturing and industrialization.