October 28, 2019

Mahmud Johnson, Founder of J-Palm

In December 2012, Mahmud Johnson was visiting Liberia during his Christmas break from the US, where he was pursuing his bachelor in Economics at Dartmouth College. While on his visit, his aunt explained to him how her palm oil retailing business went bankrupt.

She was an intermediary buying palm oil from small producers in rural areas to sell to retailers in the urban markets. Due to inefficiencies in the value chain, her suppliers became increasingly unreliable, and with one too many shortages, her supply became erratic. She was financially dependent on the business, which coupled her supply problems led to bankruptcy.

Mahmud was well aware that African oil palms grew naturally in vast supplies in Liberia, and became interested in learning more about the inefficiencies of his aunt’s supply chain. He conducted research showing that the lack of technology and the traditional labour-intensive methods used were the key causes for the low supply. Combining his new entrepreneurship knowledge and palm-oil research, he established J-Palm.

“We are the ones who are going to be able to create the fundamentals for long term stability and long term growth,” shared Mahmud. J-Palm is based on the principle that low-income individuals deserve to be treated with the same respect offered to the rest of society. Through a vertically integrated, no-waste manufacturing process, J-Palm creates a range of affordable, organic palm oil based skin and hair care products. Additionally, they create clean energy solutions from palm kernels to prevent people from utilising wood charcoal. This is in efforts to reduce deforestation resulting from the production of wood charcoal. 

In Liberia 54% of the population lives below the poverty, with many living in the rural areas. J-Palm creates much needed jobs for Liberia’s population as well as increasing the income for smallholder farmers. Mahmud’s ambition is to use business as a tool to address the social problems in Liberia. J-Palm is focused on creating jobs for rural youth and women, as well as, increasing the income opportunities for palm oil farmers. Thanks to J-Palm, the income of many farmers has increased by 200 percent!

In 2014, Mahmud went on to become a Branson Scholar at the Branson Centre for Entrepreneurship in South Africa. The following year he participated in SPARK’s IGNITE Research Competition. His proposal to research ‘Income Shocks and Insurance Buffers During Extreme Crises’ was shortlisted as one of the finalists for its quality and potential for providing applicable recommendations. Mahmud, who unfortunately could not attend the conference, gave a video presentation of his proposal and won €5,000 to develop his business in conjunction with the Amsterdam Business School.

The year after, he returned to IGNITE to give a keynote speech, sharing his experiences as an entrepreneur in Liberia.

Today, J-Palm has been recognized amongst the top Liberian SME’s with the most growth potential by the Liberia’s Business Start-Up Centre. J-Palm has expanded their product line, and have started exporting their skin care products to the United States! They are providing jobs to over 80 people, including farmers, producers, and sales agents, aiming to become Liberia’s largest consumer goods company.