Sierra Leone and China sign mega $1.2bn land dealBy KEMO CHAM in Freetown | Thursday, January 19 2012 at 14:26
Sierra Leone has signed a $1.2 billion land investment project with a Chinese firm and which is said to be the largest yet in the country's agriculture sector.
The agreement with China Hainan Natural Rubber Group details the development of a 35,000 hectare rubber plantation and the cultivation of rice on a 100,000-hectare farm.
The joint venture agreement was signed on Tuesday between the firm's visiting delegation and the ministers of Finance and Agriculture at the country's State House.
Freetown has been struggling with an increasing demand for rice leading to demand outstripping supply and high prices. The government recently announced deals with major producer countries such as Vietnam in a bid to guarantee supply.
Rubber production has lost its glory in the west African country after the bumper production decades of the 1960s and 1970s, before being decimated by an 11-year civil war.
But prices of natural rubber are now reported to be rising, pushed by brisk demand by China and India. Africa accounts for four per cent of the world's estimated annual production of nine million tonnes.
Global output is dominated by the Southeast Asia countries of Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia, which together account for 90 per cent of natural rubber production.
Cote d'Ivoire produces more than half of African output, followed by Nigeria and Liberia.
Until now the Sierra Leonean government has provided little support for private sector investment. But the two-phased project with Hainan Natural Rubber Company will provide 100, 000 jobs for Sierra Leoneans, said Mr Samuel Sarrey, the communications officer at the Ministry of Agriculture.
The country will also benefit from infrastructural development including roads especially at areas where the projects will be hosted, the official said.
Sierra Leone has an agriculture-led economy but its development has been hindered by a government focus on the mining sector.
The new deal announced would be the single-largest ever investment in the country's agriculture, according to sources. A prior $400m oil and palm project held the earlier record, said Mr Sarrey.
"Rubber used to be in the southern region, so it is high time now we introduce it to elsewhere in the country,” he said, adding, however, that the decision where the project is implemented [northern region] was the result of a feasibility study conducted by the Chinese themselves.
The project is set to kick off by the middle of the year.
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