Sierra Leone to get first rubber processing plant By KEMO CHAM in Freetown | Wednesday, July 11  2012 at  11:44

Sierra Leonean capital Freetown. The country is poised to benefit from over $50 million investment by a Bangladeshi agro investment group. FILE | AFRICA REVIEW |  

Sierra Leone is poised to get what officials are describing as the first ever rubber processing plant in West Africa as part of an over $50 million investment by a Bangladeshi agro investment group.

Bengal Agro Sierra Leone limited has unveiled plans to invest $39 million in a 100 per cent organic crop production scheme, involving processing and marketing of eight identified crops indigenous to the West African country. They are ginger, turmeric, rice, maize, groundnut, sesame, caster and rubber.

A further $20m rubber processing plant will be constructed which, it is hoped, will revolutionise the role of this largely under exploited crop with a potential for huge foreign exchange earnings for the country.

The first phase of the project is expected to rollout within the next four years.

According to officials, the total land area needed for the whole investment project is 2,300 hectares, with the possibility of further expansion.

Rubber is also produced in Liberia, Nigeria and Cote d'Ivoire. But neither country has been able to explore its full potential due largely to lack of relevant processing facilities.

Sierra Leone’s rubber sector has recently attracted major investment interest, mainly from Asia.

Biggest investment

In January, the country signed what still remains the biggest ever investment in the sector, a $1.2 billion agreement that will see a Chinese company produce rubber and rice.

That followed a visit by a Vietnamese Government delegation which has also expressed interest in pumping millions of dollars on the same crops.

The Sierra Leone Government sees such developments as enforcing its food security drive, while bringing in much needed foreign exchange and at the same time help reduce the youth unemployment.

This latest project is expected to create employment for some 6,000 Sierra Leoneans by the end of 2014, said Bengal Agro (SL) Ltd director Shah Alam.

The project is to be situated in the north of the country.

“It will earn and conserve foreign exchange for the country, which can be used for other national development programmes,” said Mr Alam.

He added that the company intended to cultivate a total of 4,048 hectares of land within the next three years, with plans for further expansion.

“This will bring a lot of laurels to the agriculture sector,” said Sierra Leone's minister of Agriculture Sam Sesay, who noted that local farmers, too, stood to benefit from transfer of technologies.