The Ebola outbreak in Liberia, which has already claimed more than 1500 lives with over 2000 others still infected, continues to wreck economic havoc in the poor West African country with the latest casualty being the planned expansion of the country’s largest oil palm plantation.
Malaysian palm oil firm Sime Darby said on Tuesday the Ebola crises will delay construction of a mill for its Liberia plantation. “Anything in addition needs to be put on hold,” said Carl Dagenhar, Sime Darby’s head of sustainability and external relations for Africa and Europe. Although he said the normal production was continuing, he added that the expansion project will resume when the disease is under control.
Sime Darby has a planned investment of over $2 billion in the palm oil plantation out of which it has planted 10,035 hectares of oil palm and 107 hectares of rubber as of early this year. The company in 2011 signed an agreement with the government to develop about 220,000 hectares of land for 63 years, however, it has to negotiate with local communities before planting on undeveloped areas of the concession.
Only a small part of the company’s acreage is currently in production which means that the Ebola crisis will have little effect on output. According to Reuters, a contractor for Sime Darby Plantation Liberia’s (SDPL) palm oil mill has been chosen and preparations for construction – initially due to be completed in mid-2015 – had already begun when the outbreak began.
The construction is now on hold, Dagenhar explained, “Of course we would like to develop more. But I think the most important thing is to survive Ebola first,” he said, adding that all 2,881 workers will continue to receive their salaries and benefits, including two 50 kilogramme bags of rice each month.
His company had donated one million Malaysian ringgit ($308,309) to the Liberian Red Cross and to pay for rubber gloves for health workers.