New Britain Palm Oil Ltd (NBPOL), represented in the Solomon Islands by Guadalcanal Plains Palm Oil Ltd (GPPOL) held another awareness session, this time at Balo village at Aola over the weekend.The purpose of the meeting was to express NBPOL’s interest to expand oil palm further east on Guadalcanal from the current operation on the Guadalcanal Plains.
The idea is for the meetings to generate interest amongst the landowners for oil palm on their land. Interested Landowners will then approach the company to give permission for them to access the land for the purpose of feasibility studies.
The meeting has been scheduled since April, however due to the flooding and very poor road conditions to get to Aola; it has been postponed several times. Access through the roads and across several rivers has been impossible.
There were a large number of men, women and children who attended the meeting, including many of the local chiefs and the response was again very positive.
The GPPOL awareness team gave a brief outline of the processes involved if any development was to go ahead.
It was stated by GPPOL Estate Manager, Craig Gibsone, that while the company is very interested to expand in their area, it would not go ahead without the approval of the landowners.
The forum was then opened up for the meeting attendees to ask questions which were the team then answered.
There were many issues raised by the landowners. Many had to do with the benefits of oil palm in their area, which were explained by Community Liaison, Regina Pokana.
They included direct benefits such as land rentals and royalties from company plantation as well as opportunity to participate in the Smallholders Scheme whereby interest free loans are given to potential growers for oil palm seedlings, fertilizer and tools to be paid back once harvesting of fruit commences. There are also indirect benefits such as business opportunities including trade stores and transport services.
One concern raised by Aola local Chief, James Bosa was “if everything is planted in oil palm where do our families plant their food gardens for themselves and for market”.
This question was answered by Andrew Kerr GPPOL Sustainability Manager, who said that “part of the feasibility study will be a social impact assessment that will look at the requirement of land for food gardens for the local people as well as for alternative crops such as cocoa and coconuts. NBPOL does not want to plant oil palm to disadvantage to local people”.
Mr Kerr highlighted that there is one major concern, which was obvious to the GPPOL awareness team and that was the poor road access east of the Mberande River where current GPPOL operations finish.
The meeting had to be postponed several times due to weather and the road condition has deteriorated considerably during this time.
Company vehicles were bogged several times and were required to be towed or pushed out by local villagers.
This is the situation that is faced by residents of this area every time they wish to access Honiara by road. If oil palm development goes ahead this is something that will need to be attended to by the responsible authorities.
The meeting at Aola was the fourth in a series of meetings that have been held throughout the north eastern parts of Guadalcanal that started late last year.
The next meeting is planned to be held in East Thasimboko in July.
GPPOL are keen to see expansion and the plans include new infrastructure and a possible mill should suitable land be available.