Earlier this year, J-Palm’s CEO Mahmud Johnson was selected as a semifinalist for the Anzisha Prize, which is the premier prize for young African entrepreneurs. While Mahmud was not selected as a finalist, the experience provided significant media exposure for J-Palm. Here is an article that features J-Palm Liberia, in addition to two other really innovative and exciting agribusinesses run by young Africans. These entrepreneurs are creating a new frontier for social transformation across Africa, and are evidence of the continent’s promising future with continued investments in young agricultural entrepreneurs and researchers.
Mahmud Johnson, Liberia, 22
After completing his economics scholarship at Dartmouth College in the US, Mahmud Johnson returned home and started J-Palm Liberia in June 2013. The company currently employs 42 people and operates on 400 acres of land, producing crude palm oil, palm kernel oil and palm kernel cake.
To start the business, Johnson raised US$12,000 of capital from angel investors and family. He also used an additional $10,000 of his personal funds that he earned from working as an economic analyst at a local consulting company.
Currently J-Palm sells its products to detergent manufacturers and animal feed mills. According to Johnson, demand for palm kernel oil is rising alongside the expansion of the local detergent market, yet only 5% of Liberia’s palm kernels are processed into palm kernel oil.
In addition to the kernels gathered from J-Palm’s own operations, the company also purchases kernels from smallholder producers in the region. “Most smallholders cannot afford to make the substantial capital investments required to set up a palm kernel oil processing mill. Thus, they treat the palm kernels as waste after palm oil extraction,” explained Johnson.
His goal for J-Palm is to become a leading producer of cleaning agents, food products (such as refined vegetable oil) and skin and hair products from adding value to palm oil.