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July 09, 2008

Algeria makes land use reforms to spur agriculture

The Algerian parliament approved a law on farming state land in a bid to spur growth of agriculture, stunted by red tape and decades of centralised economic management, newspapers reported on July 9.

The state-managed land concession law voted on July 8 is part of the efforts to reform the agricultural sector in the OPEC-member country of 34 million people, where oil and gas sales abroad account for 98 percent of total exports.

State-run agricultural land represents around 30 percent of the total farming surface, estimated at 8.5 million hectares (21 million acres), and experts consider it as the best land with high agricultural potential, El Watan newspaper said.

"The principle which was established and for which everyone agrees upon is that we'll have the concession as a means of land management," the daily quoted Agriculture Minister Rachid Benaissa as saying.

The minister added that all participants would be encouraged to be more efficient and more economical."This will reassure them and they will invest," he said after the vote.

The state will play the role of a regulator after starting to implement the concession option, and beneficiaries would be punished in case of any use of the land for goals other than farming, said independent dailies El Watan and Liberty.

Those violating the terms of the concession may receive up to a five-year prison term and fines ranging between 100,000 and 500,000 dinars ($8,080).

Newspapers repeatedly reported that agricultural land in several areas had been turned into building sites.

"Given that our natural resources are fragile, the concession method gives the state the opportunity to intervene to protect these resources through the offices ... which will intervene to regulate," Benaissa added.

For centuries, farming dominated the north African country's economy and at independence accounted for 63 percent of export revenues.

But the end of French colonial rule in 1962 set off a decline, with the loss of foreign managers and skilled labour compounded by the introduction of a rigid command economy that for years fixed salaries for farmers and enforced effective state ownership of farms.

Farming suffered further damage in the 1990s when political violence triggered an exodus to cities by rural families fleeing fighting between the army and Islamist armed groups.
The state has budgeted $4.2 billion for farming in a 2005-2009 national economic recovery plan, aiming to improve soil quality, grant concessions of land to agricultural investors, carry out reforestation and to promote farm businesses.

The Guardian

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