* Deal could be one of biggest in Africa
* Eight other countries want SAfrica farmers
(Adds quotes, details)
By Muchena Zigomo
DURBAN, April 15 (Reuters) - South African farmers have been offered 10 million hectares of farm land to grow maize, soya beans as well as poultry and dairy farming in the Republic of Congo, South Africa’s main farmers union said on Wednesday.
The deal, which covers an area more than twice the size of Switzerland, could be one of the biggest such land agreements on the continent agreed by Congo’s government in an effort to improve food security, Theo de Jager, deputy president of Agriculture South Africa (AgriSA), told Reuters.
South Africa has one of the most developed agriculture sectors on the continent, and is Africa’s top maize producer and No.3 wheat grower.
“They’ve given us 10 million hectares, and that’s quite big when you consider that in South Africa we have about 6 million hectares of land that is arable,” De Jager told Reuters on the sidelines of an agriculture conference in Durban.
De Jager said the agreement — to be finalised in South Africa next month — would operate as a 99-year lease at no cost, with additional tax benefits.
“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 said.
The Republic of the Congo’s population of around 4 million people is concentrated in the southwest, leaving the vast areas of tropical jungle in the north virtually uninhabited.
De Jager said some 1,300 South African farmers were keen to farm in the Congo Republic.
“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.”
“It is a tax holiday for the first five years and you’re also exempted from import tax on all your agricultural inputs and equipment,” he said.
“So you can import directly from the source and take all your profits out for the duration of this lease,” he said.
He said there was a government-to-government bilateral agreement on the promotion and protection of investments.
“There are also rules for disengagement, for example if they find oil or minerals on your farm they can move you off, but compensate you for the loss of income and they must give you land to the same value or more in a different area,” he said.
De Jager said food in Congo was expensive because the country lacks an established agriculture sector and most of its foodstuff is imported.
“On their side, (the Congo government) is promising the Congolese that they will be self-sufficient in food production in five years, and the way they want to do it is by importing, according to them, high technology farmers,” De Jager said.
South African farmers had also been invited to farm in Mozambique, Angola, Nigeria, Libya, Kenya, Democratic Republic of Congo, Malawi and Zambia, he said.
(For more stories on food security, click on [ID:nLV956284]
Editing by James Macharia; editing by Sue Thomas