On May 5, Sierra Leone continued its Golden Jubilee celebrations with a ribbon-cutting event featuring President Ernest Bai Koroma. The event officially launched the First Step Special Economic Zone (SEZ), and celebrated the mango and pineapple juice concentrate manufacturing operations of Africa Felix Juice, the SEZ’s first tenant.
Spanning 50-acres in Newton, about an hour’s drive from the capitol of Freetown, the SEZ is designed to be a low-tax industrial area to attract ethical foreign investment to the country. It is the result of a public-private partnership between the Sierra Leone government and US-based nonprofit World Hope International along with its subsidiary FIRST STEP. It’s the first and only American-owned and operated SEZ on the continent of Africa, and it has an enormous potential for growth. As the SEZ continues to attract international businesses to Sierra Leone, it will leverage the country’s vast natural resources to provide employment opportunities for residents and add additional economic capital to the country.
This project proves that Sierra Leone’s workforce and products can meet strict international trade standards and compete in the international workplace. The mango juice concentrate is the first value-added product exported from Sierra Leone since its civil war. European and American consumers will be able to buy the product in local supermarkets and contribute to the positive branding of the country. This will be felt at the local level as well – village-level farmers will now receive $200USD to $300USD per harvest from each mango tree as opposed to the $5USD they would receive from local markets, resulting in a direct, continuous positive impact on their annual income.
The Africa Felix Juice factory will need 3,000 kilograms of fruit per hour to maintain and sustain activity. To supply this large volume of fruit, the company’s CEO, Claudio Scotto, partnered with New York-based Houghton College to study and work with local village governance systems to create mango and pineapple co-operatives throughout the country. To date, Houghton and Scotto have successfully worked with 130 villages in the Bombali and Tonkolili districts of the country and developed agricultural collection points and routing mechanisms, which will ensure that Africa Felix Juice always has a fresh fruit supply on hand.
The country is welcoming ethical, international investment and the SEZ is a big step towards Sierra Leone’s path to increased prosperity. The jobs created here will create future opportunities for the next generation of skilled workers allowing Sierra Leone to compete with the international community.