Tuesday, November 3, 2009

South Africa: Country to Assist Libya to Revive Farming

A group of South African farmers arrived in Tripoli, Libya yesterday to help revive commercial agriculture in the oil-rich north African country.

Libya imports about 75% of its food , and efforts to achieve self- sufficiency through a state farm programme have proved unsuccessful.

The South African farmers were invited by the Libyan government as part of its efforts to use private sector partnerships to diversify its economy and improve food security.

They will visit a 40000ha olive plantation in the Khadra district, cattle and dairy farms at Khoms and poultry production facilities at Hira. Some state farms have maintained a degree of commercial production but others have reverted to subsistence level, say local consultants.

A key impediment has been state interference in the input supply chain, leading to inefficiencies.

Group leader Theo de Jager, deputy president of AgriSA, said the delegation would assess the commercial potential of the farms, and how they could be integrated into downstream processing.

"We have the expertise to conduct large-scale commercial production throughout the value chain," he said in Tripoli yesterday. Karoo olive farmers would be approached to revive the giant Khadra plantation, which was established by Italians in the 1930s .

Meetings are scheduled later this week with cabinet ministers, senior officials from the state bank and the agricultural investment corporation, and Libyan farmers' unions.

The delegation hopes to conclude an agreement with the Libyan government that sets out commercial terms, including investment protection, tenure security and incentives. South African farmers who opt to farm in Libya are expected to form a consortium, with each member spending three or four months at a time in Libya, said De Jager.

The delegation included AgriGauteng president André Botha and KwaZulu-Natal sugar farmer Charl Senekal.

Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi visited Senekal's vast sugar cane holdings in Pongola district four years ago, evidently at President Jacob Zuma 's instigation.

Senekal claims to have a personal relationship with Zuma and accompanied him to last year's GrainSA Congress.

Senekal said that when Gaddafi visited him, he said : "You must come and see my pipeline some time," referring to Libya's Great Manmade River . Considered the world's largest irrigation project, it supplies coastal farmland and cities with 6,53-million litres of water a day through a 5000km pipeline.

The AgriSA visit to Libya forms part of a drive by farmers to expand their operations throughout Africa, backed by the South African government.