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Chinese firm investments $1.3bn in S.Leone farmland

FREETOWN  (AFP) – A Chinese company said Wednesday it will invest $1.3 billion to develop rice and rubber agriculture in Sierra Leone, the biggest investment to date in the country’s farming sector.

Shanghai Construction Investment and Sierra Leone’s agricultural ministry signed a memorandum of understanding on Wednesday which says the company “will cultivate over 30,000 hectares of land” in the northern region of Tonkolili.

The project will begin in mid-2012 and is expected to create some 100,000 jobs for Sierra Leonean workers.

The vice president of the Haman Rubber Group, a subsidiary of Shanghai Construction Investment, Li Zhiguan described the investment as “the largest investment currently in Sierra leone’s agricultural development.”

Company chairman Zhou Chen told journalists: “The company will also construct 500 kilometres (300 miles) of trunk roads, 600 kilometres of feeder roads, 30 buildings and 868 kilometres of irrigation at the project site.”

“These will be part of our corporate social responsibility,” he added.

Agriculture Minister Sam Sesay said land had already been secured for the project.

“We will ensure that the local people will benefit from the project which will target farmers in the north,” he added.

The west African nation, which on Wednesday marks 10 years since the end of a brutal 11-year civil war, has recently ushered in massive investments in mining and agriculture.

A 258 million euro ($368 million) project by Swiss group Addax & Oryx was announced in June 2011 to grow thousands of hectares of sugarcane to produce ethanol, raising fears over food security and land rights.

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