ASEAN KEY DESTINATIONS
M'sian group fast expanding its oil palm plantation in PNG
A thriving palm oil industry, backed by a Malaysian privately controlled company East New Britain Plantation Group (ENBP), is set to become the new economic backbone of Kokopo, the provincial capital of East New Britain in Papua New Guinea (PNG).
Kokopo is located about 25km away from the scenic port city of Rabaul, which was almost destroyed in 1994 by a volcano eruption.
Today, the Port of Rabaul remained a bustling commercial area. But the constant threat of new eruptions, there are three active volcanoes in Rabaul, the provincial administrative centre and international airport were recently moved to Kokopo.
Further up in the hinterland away from the volcanoes of Rabaul, ENBP is busy planting oil palm trees in mineral-rich soil that had been previously cleared by its landowners.
The plantation venture is through a long-term land lease arrangement with native landowners, who have customary rights to vast tracts of land in the surrounding areas.
In the last three years, more than 2,000ha of oil palm trees had been planted at the company’s Kairak plantation. ENBP chief executive officer Tan Eng Kwee told StarBiz that more landowners were opening up their land to be planted.
“The Kairak plantation will eventually become the largest palm oil plantation in East New Britain,’’ Tan said, who was recently given the honour as the first foreigner to be conferred the title Grand Chief of the Baining tribe.
The Baining people are the original inhabitants of the Gazelle Peninsula, where Rabaul and Kokopo are located. The made up the largest group of landowners in the fertile soil area.
His close relationship with the tribe – Tan had spend the last 10 years in the area – won him the trust of the local landowners who are keen to develop their land in a sustainable manner.
“We are targeting to do the ground breaking ceremony for the mill in April next year,’’ Tan said. Other future development could include the construction of a wharf at nearby sea-fronting area to facilitate exports of crude palm oil from the area.
Tan is also in charge of the group’s land in Wide Bay, located to the south of Kokopo in the remote Pomio district. The group, last week, launched its first palm oil processing mill, officiated by the deputy prime minister Leo Deon.
The plant at its plantation in Wide Bay is operated by Tzen Plantation Ltd. The group’s total planted area in East New Britain is currently about 6,500ha, and is expected to reach 8,000ha by the end of the year.
“With the mill in place and other community projects that we have developed, the people here now knows that we are serious about improving their livelihood,’’ the group’s co-chairman Lim Chai Beng said.
He and co-owner Daya Materials Bhd’s director Lim Soon Foo won the approval to develop palm oil estates in East New Britain in 2007. The whole project was until recently funded entirely by the two shareholders.
“It was a huge undertaking funded entirely from our own pockets,’’ Soon Foo said.
Their gamble paid off handsomely as trees grown in East New Britain fertile soil produce fruits earlier and yield more oil compared with those in Malaysia.
Chai Beng, or C.B. Lim as he is known within the palm oil industry, is the founder and managing director of CB Industrial Product Holding Bhd. CBIP is the maker of the patented automated Modipalm mills.
“In the future, all new palm oil mills in East New Britain will be using the Modipalm technology,’’ said C.B. Lim, claiming the Modipalm system generates substantially lower amount of effluent compared with other conventional mills.
Already, CBIP is constructing a Modipalm mill at Rimbunan Hijau Group’s plantation located further south in the Pomio district.
New Britain Palm Oil Ltd, which is a takeover target by Sime Darby Bhd, owns 36,000ha of palm oil plantation on the western part of New Britain. The New Britain island is about the size of Taiwan.
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