Feronia is an agribusiness operating in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).
At the heart of Feronia lies a long established palm oil business, Plantations et Huileries du Congo S.A (“PHC”), a company incorporated under the laws of the DRC, which has three remotely located plantations; Lokutu, Yaligimba and Boteka.
When Feronia acquired 76.17% of the shares of PHC from subsidiaries of Unilever plc on September 3, 2009, the three plantations had suffered from years of under-investment and considerable disruption caused by conflict in the DRC.
Feronia’s initial focus has been on rebuilding the business and resuming production to secure its future and the livelihoods of the 3,800+ people it directly employs and the many more thousands of jobs its presence in the regions creates. This process has included the rehabilitation of palm oil mills at the Lokutu and the Boteka plantations and the construction of a new palm oil mill at the Yaligimba plantation which commenced operation in October 2013. The Company has also rehabilitated the internal road systems, implemented a substantial replanting program replacing less productive palm trees over 25 years old with new trees, and is in the process of rehabilitating and expanding its social infrastructure.
Feronia’s plantations produce crude palm oil (CPO) and palm kernel oil (PKO). CPO is part of the staple and traditional diet of the Congolese and, with Feronia’s products sold locally in the DRC, the Company is well placed to help decrease reliance on imports and increase food security and quality.
Feronia prides itself on being the guardian of its 106 year-old palm oil business and its employees, communities, and environment. It has a long term commitment to improve the living and working environment of its employees and their communities and is committed to sustainable agriculture, environmental protection and community inclusion. Feronia has in place an Environmental and Social Action Plan (ESAP), which was jointly developed with CDC Group plc, one of Feronia's key shareholders, and is focused on implementing environmental and social best practice and improving social infrastructure.
Feronia is working towards certification by the Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) and is implementing IFC/World Bank standards for environmental and social sustainability. Its oil palm replanting programme is brownfield in nature – replacing old palms with new – and it has no reliance on deforestation.
Feronia is listed on the Toronto Venture Exchange and is the first African agribusiness to be listed on a North American stock exchange.
Huileries du Congo Belge (HCB) was founded in 1911 by Lever Brothers (Unilever) to supply palm oil to its Port Sunlight soap factory in the UK. It grew to become one of the largest private sector employers in Africa, supplying edible oils and other essential agricultural products to local and international markets. HCB remained in continuous operation and a stable fixture in the Congo through transformations from Belgian rule to independence. When the Congo became République du Zaire in 1960, the company renamed itself Plantations Lever au Zaire (PLZ). In 1997, when the name changed to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the name was changed again, this time to Plantations et Huileries du Congo Sarl (PHC).
In the 1970s, Plantations Lever au Zaire consisted of 11 plantations covering c. 200,000 hectares, at the time the DRC was the world’s second largest palm oil producer.
Operations suffered significantly during the two Congo wars which lasted from 1996 to 2003: operations were curtailed and a lack of management and investment meant each plantation kept going as best it could in virtual isolation from head office and with no input from overseas. During this period, senior management in the DRC (many of whom still work at Feronia) kept the business running, often at great personal risk.
Over time, Unilever disposed of a number of its DRC plantations and in May 2009, decided to sell its 76.17% holding in PHC which consisted of the three plantations we own and operate today.
In September 2009, Feronia was confirmed as the new owner of the business. Relevant expertise, a focus on environmental and social issues, and a philosophy of respect for the workforce and the communities were the determining factors in Feronia’s successful bid.
In September 2010, Feronia listed its shares on the TSX Venture Exchange, raising $21.8 million and becoming the first African agribusiness to be listed on a North American stock exchange. Since then, Feronia has raised further funding through its stock market listing to finance the rehabilitation of PHC and develop its arable farming operation.
Being a public listed company, Feronia has over 1,000 shareholders although two organisations account for 59.90% of the Company’s issued shares. Both the African Agriculture Fund, a US$243m private equity fund focused exclusively on African agriculture, managed by Phatisa in Johannesburg, and CDC Group plc, the UK Government's Development Finance Institution, became shareholders in 2013 following two rounds of fund raising.
As at December 31, 2014, The African Agriculture Fund owned 32.46% and CDC Group plc owned 27.44% of the Company's issued share capital with both organisations represented on the board of Feronia Inc.
"A Roman Goddess associated with wildlife, fertility, health and abundance and also the guardian of freed slaves. A stone at Feronia's temple at Terracina, Italy, has the inscripton ‘benemeriti servi sedeant surgent liberi’ – ‘let deserving slaves sit down so that they may stand up free’. The Company’s name embodies its goal of developing agriculture in the DRC to free many thousands of people from poverty. "