Wednesday, April 15, 2009

DRC: Huge Congo land deal for South Africa's farmers

Reuters/The Witness

DURBAN — South African farmers have been offered 10 million hectares of farm land on which to grow maize and soya beans and on which to set up poultry and dairy farms in the Republic of Congo, South Africa’s main farmers union said yesterday.

The deal, which covers an area more than twice the size of Switzerland, could be one of the biggest such land agreements on the continent agreed by Congo’s government in an effort to improve food security, Theo de Jager, deputy president of Agriculture South Africa (AgriSA), told Reuters.

South Africa has one of the most developed agriculture sectors on the continent and is Africa’s top maize producer and third largest wheat grower.

They’ve given us 10 million hectares, and that’s quite big when you consider that in South Africa we have about six million hectares of land that is arable,” De Jager told Reuters on the sidelines of an agriculture conference in Durban.

De Jager said the agreement to be finalised in South Africa next month would operate as a 99-year lease at no cost, with additional tax benefits.

“The offer that we got and we’ve agreed on paper, is a 99-year lease, of which the value would be zero and it’s not allowed to escalate over the 99 years. So it is free use for 99 years,” he said.

The Republic of Congo’s population of around four million people is concentrated in the south-west of the country, leaving the vast areas of tropical jungle in the north virtually uninhabited.

De Jager said some 1 300 South African farmers are keen to farm in the Congo Republic.

“We have two groups of farmers who are interested, one of farmers who want to leave South Africa and relocate entirely to farm over there and another of farmers who want to diversify their farming operations to the Congo,” he said.

“We’ve got guys wanting to get into poultry and dairy farming and maize and soya bean production.”

“It is a tax holiday for the first five years and … exemption from import tax on all your agricultural inputs and equipment,” he said.

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