Palm oil minnow Equatorial Palm Oil followed giant Sime
Darby in revealing concerns over the spread of the Ebola virus in West Africa
but forecast a "successful" 2014 – despite the lack of any revenues so far.
The group said that, while ebola had not spread onto, or
near, its palm oil estates in Liberia, that it was in talks with the government
and international authorities over the fatal virus, against which is has
introduced a "number of preventative measures".
These include "screening points" in health clinics and briefings
to the group's 1,200 workers, besides donation of medical equipment to local
The comments follow the announcement by Sime Darby, the
world's biggest listed palm oil producer, that it is slowing production of the
vegetable oil in Liberia, because of the spread of Ebola.
Malaysia-based Sime Darby, which operates Liberia's biggest
oil palm plantation, has said it will continue to pay its 3,000 staff in a West
African country which has seen the vegetable oil as a means of promoting
Indeed, West Africa has offered palm oil giants hope of
maintaining plantation expansion, with supplies of fresh, suitable land within the
equatorial belt of South East Asia running low, and South American growers
largely turned to other crops.
However, many companies operating in West Africa, ranging
from miner Randgold to security services company Westminster Group, have already
acknowledged a threat from the virus, which has killed 1,145 people since
February, including more than 400 in Liberia, according to the World Health
'Palm oil prices will improve'
Michael Frayne, the Equatorial Palm Oil chairman, said that
he remained upbeat over prospects for the palm oil sector, in Liberia and
"The growth in the palm oil market continues to be underpinned
by compelling demographic and macro-economic trends," he said, adding that was "confident
that palm oil prices will improve as a result of limited supply and continuing
Palm oil futures in the benchmark Kuala Lumpur market
touched 2,083 ringgit a tonne on Monday, the lowest for a benchmark contract
since October 2009.
Meanwhile, Liberia "remains politically stable under
The group was looking forward to a "successful 2014,
delivering on our strategic objectives and creating shareholder value".
The comments came as the group unveiled a loss of $429,000
for the first half of 2014, down from a loss of $1.70m the year before despite
a drop in revenues to zero, from $35,000 a year before.
The group's efforts to exploit its palm oil plantations in
Liberia have been hampered by funding squeeze, although this was resolved in
April by cash support from Kuala Lumpur Kepong, another major
Malaysia-based palm oil group.
"Equatorial Palm now sits in a significantly stronger
position as opposed to the same time last year," Mr Frayne said.
The deal with Kuala Lumpur Kepong "securing the $35.5m
of cash and funding commitments was the key for resumption of normal operations
at the Liberian estates".