Changing Liberia one machine at a time

Noticing a trend in Liberia to treat the palm kernels as waste after palm oil extraction instead of producing crude palm oil, palm kernel oil and palm kernel, Mahmud Johnson (22) got the idea to set up a palm kernel oil processing mill in his hometown of Monrovia. “Most smallholders cannot afford to make the substantial capital investments required to set up a palm kernel oil processing mill. I was fortunate to raise US$12,000 (R138,379.80) of capital from angel investors and family and put in my own $10,000 (R115,316.50) that I earned from working as an economic analyst at a local consulting company,” explains Johnson.
Following his completion of economics scholarship at Dartmouth College in the S,Johnson set up J-Palm Liberia, a palm kernel oil processing mill which operates on 500 acres of land producing high quality laundry soaps from crude palm oil, palm kernel oil and palm kernel cake.
Johnson elaborates, “J-Palm employs a vertically integrated, no-waste manufacturing system that allows us to keep our cost structure low and our prices competitive. While also empowering smallholder farmers we are able to market our products at very affordable prices without compromising on quality. We produce our own palm oil and palm kernel oil, which are the major ingredients in our laundry soap. We also earn additional revenue from processing and selling the by-products of palm oil and palm kernel oil production which include palm kernel cake (used as animal feed) and palm kernel shells. Our basic model is to work with medium-scale palm plantation owners to refurbish old and abandoned farms through a farm-leasing program. As part of this agreement we underbrush the farms and provide processing equipment Noticing a trend in Liberia to treat the palm kernels as waste after palm oil extraction instead of producing crude palm oil, palm kernel oil and palm kernel, Mahmud Johnson (22) got the idea to set up a palm kernel oil processing mill in his hometown of Monrovia. “Most smallholders cannot afford to make the substantial capital investments required to set up a palm kernel oil processing mill. I was fortunate to raise US$12,000 (R138,379.80) of capital from angel investors and family and put in my own $10,000 (R115,316.50)that I earned from working as an economic analyst at a local consulting company,” explains Johnson.

Products and process
J-Palm has provided an interim solution to smallholder farmers who often produce a lot of palm oil but have to forgo about 35-40% of oil palm fruit due to lack of time, labour, liquidity and appropriate harvesting and value-adding technologies by providing them with simple oil screw press machines in return for a fraction of the oils produced and also provide smallholders the option to sell their oils to them at prevailing market prices,thus eliminating the farm-to-market transportation costs they face. “Given that almost half of Liberia’s palm fruit go to waste every year due to a dearth of appropriate processing technologies,our model provides a win-win solution for J-Palm and the smallholder farmers with whom we work. Our 5-year goal is to make these screw press machines available to smallholder oil palm producers throughout Liberia,” he says.
Palm kernel oil: Crude palm oil is produced from the outer layer of the palm fruit. After producing palm oil, most smallholder producers regard the palm seeds (kernels) as waste. Palm kernels produce another form of oil – palm kernel oil – that is used in cosmetics and food products. However, most smallholders cannot afford the substantial capital investments to crack and separate the kernels from the hard shells, and extract the oils. J-Palm purchases the kernels from smallholder producers, and processes them into palm kernel oil.
Palm kernel cake: The palm kernel cake is the residual from the palm kernel oil production process. It is used primarily as medium-grade protein feed for cattle and pigs, usually mixed with other types of feed to create a richer feed that enhances animal growth. J- Palm supplies palm kernel cake to pig farmers and animal feed companies in and around Liberia for additional income.
Palm Kernel Shells: The last residue from this manufacturing process is the palm kernel shell. As part of the company commitment to implementing a no-waste manufacturing process, the company has a research division, J-Lab where a number of new uses for palm kernel shells and other palm-production residual are being assessed. Johnson confirms to working with environmental studies student researchers from the U.S. to conduct background research on the production, marketing and distribution of biomass charcoal at J-Lab, “We are also working with a team of student researchers at the University of Colorado at Boulder, to use oil palm biomass (palm kernel shells and palm leaves) to create a brand of energy-efficient, longer-burning charcoal,” concludes Johnson.
J Palm Liberia: (+231) 880 06 1978 / +1 720 822 4694; www.jpalmliberia.com;info@jpalmliberia.com