Feronia's plantations were established in the early 20th century but experienced more than a decade of decline before we acquired them in 2009. At the time of the acquisition, things were in a perilous state and it is unlikely that the business would have survived another year without considerable investment.
The business and its people had been virtually abandoned and production was all-but non-existent. We had a workforce of approximately 4,000 who frequently went unpaid. We had just one fully operational palm oil mill which was producing a small fraction of what it had at its peak. The infrastructure was crumbling and there was not a single operating vehicle on any of the three plantations.
After 98 years of operation, the business was in danger of fading inexorably back into the jungles from whence it was conceived, taking with it employment, housing, hospitals, schools, roads, hope and opportunity that the business had previously provided to so many for so long.
In the rehabilitation of this business we are undertaking an almost unique challenge and have an incredible responsibility. We are taking a 100+ year old plantation business which is embedded within its environment and steeped in history, is depended upon by thousands for their livelihoods and, , their lives, and, by working hand-in-hand with our employees and their communities, we are striving to rebuild it so that it is fit for purpose; not only for the current reality, but for the next 100 years.
Feronia’s palm oil plantations are located in the provinces of Equateur and Orientale. Equateur province does not contain any extractive industries and has so far failed to benefit from foreign or domestic investment of any significance. Orientale province was one of the principal theatres of conflict during the First & Second Congo Wars. Both of these areas are vast, remote and have very little in the way of infrastructure.
As of January 1, 2015, the three Feronia plantations were made up of:
- 13,570 ha of immature palms
- 10,901 ha of mature producing palms
- 6,338 ha of current replantable reserves
When Feronia acquired the business in 2009, c. 47% of planted hectares were considered past their peak and few trees in the potentially high-yielding 8-18 year range had been treated with fertilizer in their formative years. We had just one fully operational palm oil mill and PHC's production was down over 95% on its peak.
Over the intervening years we have invested heavily. We have renovated two mills and constructed a new palm oil mill at Yaligimba. We have undertaken a large replanting programme with 16,500 hectares of oil palm replanted by the end of 2014. We have also revitalized the Yaligimba Seed Research Station, one of Africa’s pre-eminent oil palm seed research and breeding operations and one of the only sources of seeds for growing oil palms able to achieve commercial yields in sub-Saharan Africa.
All of these activities have been essential in order to ensure the survival of this business in the long term and they underpin our long term commitment to improve the living and working environment of our employees and their communities and our committment to sustainable agriculture, environmental protection and community inclusion.