April 20, 2009
The deal was revealed by Theo de Jager, deputy president of Agriculture South Africa (AgriSA), South Africa's lagrest farmers union, in an interview with Reuters last week at an agriculture conference in Durban.
"The offer which 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 told Reuters, noting that some 1,300 South African farmers were ready to participate.
"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, as well as maize and soya bean production."
Farmers would enjoy a five year tax holiday and be exempted from an import tax on agricultural inputs and equipment.
The Congolese government hopes the deal will spur technology transfer between foreign and local farmers, enabling the country to eventually produce more of its own food. Presently much of the food consumed in Congo is imported.
De Jager said South African farmers have also been invited work in other countries in sub-Saharan Africa, including Mozambique, Angola, Nigeria, Libya, Kenya, Democratic Republic of Congo, Malawi and Zambia.
The deal is similar to one signed last year between Daewoo, a South Korean conglomerate, and the government of Madagascar. That agreement spurred an uprising that eventually brought down president Marc Ravalomanana. The deal has since been canceled.
Republic of Congo is home to around 4 million people. More than 60 percent of the country is forested, about one third of which is primary tropical rainforest.
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