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February 28, 2011

South African farmers shun Libya investment; target Sudan, Egypt

by Brian Latham

 South Africa’s biggest farmers union, Agri SA, said its members are seeking to expand into Egypt, Morocco and Sudan while putting plans to enter Libya on hold because of violence in that country.

Members of the Pretoria-based union are already producing grapes in Egypt’s Aswan region and are considering olive farming and processing ventures in Morocco and sugar and banana operations in Sudan, Theo de Jager, who heads the union’s Africa committee, said in an interview. An agreement to farm land in Congo Republic has already been brokered and sugar operations are being considered in Mozambique, he said.

The union, which has 70,000 members, is hoping to profit from growing demand in Africa and to compete more effectively on the international market by investing in countries where the climate and location may help them undercut rivals in South America.

“We hope to end the competitive advantage they have over us,” de Jager said from Tzaneen, a fruit-farming town in eastern South Africa. Expansion into Libya has been “put on the back burner” by farmers who had hoped to profit from a yet to be ratified bilateral trade agreement between the country and South Africa, he said.

Most farmers will have the operations in new countries run by managers rather than emigrating, he said.

“There are South Africans opening up in Egypt, with one of our biggest grape farmers and others farming in the Aswan region,” De Jager said. “The farmers in northern Sudan should be able to utilize a preferential sugar trade agreement between Arab nations.”

Investment plans in Congo Republic, where the agriculture ministry will allocate about 172,000 hectares (425,012 acres) of land to 17 South African farming syndicates, are focused on producing grain and red meat for the local market and fruit for export.

“The farmers will grow tropical fruit and hopefully give us an edge against farmers in South America where they traditionally beat us to the European markets by about a week,” he said.

The union hopes to soon conclude talks over 50-year land leases in Mozambique week as part of a plan to grow sugar for biofuel plants, tropical fruit and livestock, de Jager said.

The union has turned down opportunities in Canada and Europe, he said.

A rival union, Tau SA, has concluded an agreement to send farmers who want to leave South Africa to Georgia.

South African farmers are the continent’s biggest producers of corn, grapes, wine and sugar and the world’s second-biggest citrus fruit exporter after Spain.


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