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S Africa farmers sign big Congo farmland deal

Johannesburg, October 21, 2009

South Africa has signed a farmland deal with the Republic of Congo that will give South African farmers access to up to 10 million hectares of land, the country's biggest farmers union has said.

The deal, potentially one of the largest land agreements on the continent and part of Congo's plan to improve food security, will allow South African farmers to lease land to grow maize, soya beans as well as for poultry and dairy among other produce.

"It's 10 million hectares of under-utlised land that have been made avaliable to us," Theo de Jager, deputy president of union Agri SA, told Reuters. "We have signed the agreement and it's initially for a 30-year renewable lease."

South Africa has one of the most developed agriculture sectors on the continent and its farmers are looking to expand into other countries.

They are joined in the scramble for land abroad by countries including China, South Korea and European and Middle East nations after steep food price inflation last year highlighted the need to achieve greater food security.

De Jager said the South African deal included tax exemptions on importing agricultural inputs and equipment and full expatriation of profits.

Some 200,000 hectares of state farms would be immediately available for South African farmers, De Jager said, but added.

"It's not limited to those farms...There's no limit on the land you can get (up to 10 million ha)...it's whatever you need in terms of your business plan."

De Jager said about 1,700 South African farmers had enquired about farming in the Congo.

"I don't think all of them will eventually go out there, but there has been huge interest in this," he said.

Renewing the 30-year lease would be decided by a committee, and conditions would include farmers actively using the land, he added.

"If you're not producing then this evaluation committee can decide to terminate the lease agreement," he said.

The land deal was announced in April, but was delayed by general elections in the Congo in July, and then by revisions to the lease period to 30 years from 99 years.

Analysts point to potentially huge rewards in investing in farmland as the world population grows, while many see climate change and biofuels choking off the supply of arable land. – Reuters




Tags: South Africa | farmers | Congo | farmland | Johannesburg |

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