Ecobank is arranging US$300mn of financing for Olam Palm Gabon to create a 50,000 hectare palm oil plantation and refinery in Gabon. Once at full capacity, the project will make Gabon one of the largest palm oil producers in Middle Africa.

The project will be officially inaugurated at a ceremony in Libreville tomorrow.

The loan is split into two tranches; US$228mn has already been raised with participation from Afreximbank, Ecobank, BGFI Bank Gabon and the Central African Development Bank. The second tranche of US$72mn is due to be finalised by the end of 2012.

Edward George, head of soft commodities research at Ecobank, tells GTR that the project could enable Gabon to overtake Cote d’Ivoire as the region’s largest palm oil exporter.

Until now, the only significant palm oil exporter in West Africa has been Cote d’Ivoire – largely because other producing countries in the region use their palm oil domestically.

There’s a real need to increase palm oil production, and there’s a huge potential,” George says. “In fact, the palm oil majors from Malaysia and Indonesia are looking to expand in Africa because they can’t get the land anymore in Southeast Asia.”

In Liberia, four major multinationals have promised a total of US$2.6bn in oil palm investment, and more could be coming soon. Investors include major players such as Malaysia-based Sime Darby and Golden VerOleum, a subsidiary of the New-York based private equity fund Verdant Fund.

Olam Palm Gabon is owned by the Gabonese government and Singapore’s Olam International.