Water rattles on the tin roofs and rain runs through the streets of Monrovia. Tony Blair and Nick Thompson, AGI’s CEO, are here to meet the founder of one of Liberia’s most innovative businesses, Mahmud Johnson. This is Liberia’s first palm kernel oil processing operation, J-Palm Liberia, and Mahmud is justifiably proud.
J-Palm’s model is simple. They use otherwise wasted palm kernels to produce palm oil products, by providing equipment to small holder farmers which helps them increase their productivity and improve their livelihoods. J-Palm then employs fifty young Liberians, many of them women, to manufacture affordable beauty and energy products.
Mr Johnson and Mr Blair get to grips with a palm kernel
Proudly holding Kernel Fresh hair oil and soap, beauty products produced from waste
Showing Mr Blair his product range, Mahmud explains why creating jobs - especially for young people - is an important part of J-Palm’s mission. He explained how his parents getting jobs had a huge impact on their family, and allowed him get an education that many other Liberians do not receive. “Our future depends on us creating sustainable livelihood opportunities for people now, so that they can make the best choices for their children in the long run,” he says.
Estimates suggest, that the country’s potential workforce is likely to double by 2030, that Liberia will have a shortfall of some 600,000 jobs by 2030 if nothing changes. Bridging this gap is particularly important as the country seeks to recover from recent economic shocks and the impact of the Ebola outbreak. That’s why the government is focusing on sectors that have the potential to help fill this jobs gap, one is oil palm but others include cocoa, rubber and fish.
AGI is working with the government to lift constraints on the job-creating private sector, kick start job-creating industries, and create an attractive environment for investors.
Mahmud was one of the four young entrepreneurs awarded a 40 Chances Fellowship in 2014. This fellowship was set up by the Howard G. Buffett Foundation, the Africa Governance Initiative (AGI), and the World Food Prize Foundation to launch innovative social enterprise projects addressing hunger and poverty. Reflected on Mahmud’s progress, Nick Thompson said:
“I was on the judging panel for the 40 Chances fellowship and getting the opportunity to come back now, two years later to see the progress Mahmud and his company have made has been extraordinary. He has created jobs and increased farmers’ incomes. This is exactly the kind of impact we were all hoping for and that’s wonderful to see.”
Mr Johnson describes his plans for the future of J-Palm
J-Palm is an inspiring example of a successful social enterprise, and Mahmud plans to continue expanding. Just recently, J-Palm Liberia has been awarded funding by the World Bank to produce charcoal briquettes from the waste palm kernel shells and help decrease deforestation in Liberia. Mahmud reflected on the importance of job creation in Liberia: “Our future depends on us creating sustainable livelihood opportunities for people now, so that they can make the best choices for their children in the long run.”
[Photo credit: Chongyoon Aaron Nah]