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FIRST STEP Economic Opportunity Zone, Inc. (FIRST STEP) — a subsidiary of World Hope International— is enriching lives in Sierra Leone through economic investment, transformation and community empowerment. FIRST STEP is providing opportunities for foreign direct investment in Sierra Leone under a 2009 ratified public private partnership agreement with the Government of Sierra Leone.

Under its agreement with the Government of Sierra Leone, FIRST STEP is developing 50 acres of land to lease to companies seeking to process Sierra Leone’s natural resources for sale in Sierra Leone or export. FIRST STEP’S agreement allows businesses that lease land to access special duty and tax incentives as well as many other incentives needed to help companies do business in Sierra Leone. Additionally, FIRST STEP provides counsel and support for companies interested in establishing a business in Sierra Leone. Tenants’ businesses are able to benefit from FIRST STEP’S extensive in-country experience, allowing the organization to reduce both the risks and costs associated with establishing export processes.
The model has already shown success with their first tenant, Africa Felix Juice (AFJ). WHI works closely with AFJ to support AFJ’s mango, papaya and pineapple supply chain from small holder farmers. As a result, Sierra Leonean farmers sell their mangoes, pineapples and papayas to AFJ who in turn processes the fruit into juice. AFJ’s global clients include buyers from the U.K., the Netherlands and Germany. To date, AFJ and WHI have created more than 5,000 jobs providing a steady income, education, training and more.
FIRST STEP is duplicating its proven success with its new tenant, Sierra Coffee Mills, who is putting Sierra Leone on the gourmet coffee world map. Sierra Coffee Mills is buying Sierra Leonean-grown coffee and processing the coffee for export at FIRST STEP. In addition, Sierra Coffee Mills uses their FIRST STEP processing facility to teach small holder farmers – many of whom live on less than $2 a day – how to process their graded and washed robusta coffee. Thanks to this first in country vertically integrated coffee processing facility, farmers in Sierra Leone will be able to earn a higher income.

The first tenant of the SEZ is a tropical fruit juice concentrate manufacturer called Africa Felix Juice (AFJ). In 2011, FIRST STEP completed construction of a factory shell and the necessary accompanying infrastructure for AFJ’s operations. AFJ installed state-of-the-art juice processing equipment provided by an Italian company called Tropical Food Machinery which is also a partner in AFJ. Production began in April 2011, and AFJ’s exports to the EU constitute Sierra Leone’s first industrial scale value-added exports in over 20 years.

Example of the equipment line that AFJ installed in the factory shell in the FIRST STEP SEZ, photo courtesy of Tropical Food Machinery